What Makes the Weather?

Well, this is a question that is asked by several people several times a day, so let’s start with the basics.  Meteorology is known as atmospheric science or the study of the atmosphere and weather, not the study of meteorites.  Weather is the state of the atmosphere at any given place and time.  Climatology is the scientific study of climates, including the causes and long-term effects of variation in regional and global climates.  Both are important in understanding the causes and effects of what makes the weather.

Oh, the Atmosphere!

Graphic of the four layers of the atmosphere that makes the weather weather

There are four layers of the atmosphere: the troposphere, the stratosphere, the mesosphere, and the thermosphere.  All weather occurs in the lowest layer of the atmosphere called the troposphere.  The troposphere is the layer closest to Earth’s surface and is 4 to 12 miles (7 to 20 km) thick.  The troposphere contains half of the Earth’s atmosphere and nearly all of the water vapor and dust in the atmosphere.  Clouds form because of the water vapor and dust that are found here. Air is warmer near the ground and gets colder higher up.  The atmosphere is made up of two main gases nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%) with argon, carbon dioxide, and other trace gases making up the last 1 percent.  Now we need some type of catalyst to work with our atmosphere to see what makes the weather.

The Invisible Force

The sun produces incoming solar radiation, or shortwave radiation, and heats the Earth unevenly because of the Earth’s tilt.  Some of this radiation is absorbed by the Earth,
which then emits longwave radiation back to space.  Clouds act as a blanket and either block incoming solar radiation or trap some of the outgoing infrared radiation emitted by the Earth
and radiate it back downward, thereby warming the surface of the Earth.  The tropics receive more radiation than they emit and the poles emit more radiation than they receive.  This means the tropics have a net surplus of radiation, while the poles have a net deficit of radiation.  The Earth is always trying to balance out temperature inequalities.   Warm air is transported towards the poles, while the cold air at the poles gets transported towards the tropics.  This transfer of air is what makes the weather.

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