CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Climate and weather together they are among the most influential forces on Earth. One can influence where and how we choose to live, the other often determines what we do, where we go and what we wear each day. Climate refers to the average weather conditions of a place over a long period of time. The Earth has six main climate zones.
Some are mild and inviting like the Mediterranean climate of southern Europe, others are harsh like the arid deserts of northern Africa and the frozen tundra of Greenland. Through history climate has often played a part in where people have chosen to settle. In the ancient world some of the first permanent human communities occurred in places with hospitable climates but humans have long had an amazing capacity to cope with more severe and challenging climates.
Today with widespread use of refrigeration for foods and of air-conditioning and heating for homes humans can survive in all climates including the frozen deserts of Antarctica or the blazing heat of death valley California where temperatures can soar above 130C. Weather, on the other hand, refers to the day to day conditions of the Earth's atmosphere at a particular place and time. Weather can be glorious or annoying. It can also be devastating. Severe weather can destroy homes and property. Crippled transportation ruin crops and create havoc for people caught in its path.
In the United States weather causes on average more than 11.4 billion dollars in damages each year. About 15 percent of that damage occurs in Florida alone, a state that sees more than a chain of hurricanes, floods and tornadoes. An accurate weather forecast can make it possible for people to prepare for severe conditions before they strike. In cases of hurricanes, tornadoes and floods a warning can save lives by giving people time to get out of harm's way.
With so much at stake atmospheric scientists called meteorologists are working with new technologies to find better ways to forecast the weather. Powerful computers process atmospheric information to create weather maps and models.
Radars track storms on the move and can detect rain up to 250 miles away. Weather satellites look down on the Earth from space monitoring everything from cloud cover and precipitation to lightening strikes and fluctuations in the temperature of the oceans. There are even research planes that fly into hurricanes to help scientists learn about the inner workings of some of the planet's deadliest storms.
In some cases the study of meteorology can be a nail biting adventure as scientists risk their lives to study tornadoes and other dangerous weather phenomena. As scientists continue to study weather patterns and behavior we can expect to find more ways to predict its course and the next time severe weather strikes perhaps we will be ready.