Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Severin. Severin Wonders, “Why is Alaska so cold?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Severin!
If you have ever taken a long trip, you may have noticed the weather can be quite different in different parts of the country. For example, if you travel from Detroit to Miami in December, you may need a large suitcase.
The snow and ice of a Detroit winter may mean you wear snow boots and a coat onto the plane, but by the time you get to Miami, you will be ready for a swimsuit and shorts! The reason for the difference in weather is that Detroit and Miami have very different climates.
Weather describes what is happening outdoors at a certain location at a certain time. The weather can change dramatically over a short period of time. Weather includes daily changes in precipitation, humidity, barometric pressure, temperature, and wind.
Climate, on the other hand, describes the average weather in a specific location over many years. Climate is what the weather is normally like in your city. For example, Houston has a humid climate, and Seattle has a wet climate.
Many factors, such as elevation, ocean currents, distance from the sea, and prevailing winds, can affect the climate of an area. One of the most important things that influences climate, though, is latitude. The latitude of an area indicates how far it is — north or south — of the equator.
Latitude affects climate because it is related to the length and intensity of sunlight an area receives. As Earth orbits the sun, sometimes the Northern Hemisphere is tipped toward the Sun, while at other times the Southern Hemisphere is tipped toward the Sun.
When a location is closer to the Sun, its days are longer, and the Sun's rays are stronger and more direct. When our hemisphere is tipped toward the Sun, we experience warmer weather and longer days. This is our summer. When we tip away from the Sun, the days are shorter and colder. This is winter.
But none of this explains why Detroit and Miami would have such different weather on the same day in the same month, does it? Actually… it does!
Miami is much closer to the equator than Detroit. This means the tipping of the hemispheres has less extreme effects on Miami than Detroit. Because Miami is closer to the equator, it receives a lot of sunlight and warmth all year long and thus maintains a warm climate.