2011-01-10 18:11:13questions re: terminology ~ Climate and Weather
Peter Miesler

 Hello since this is my first post at this board I should introduce myself. I'm a high school grad class of 73, where I learned about climate science. College was out for me so I been a working man, but science and learning about the Earth under my feet has been a life long passion that I've kept up on, if at the laymen level.  Now that I have more free time I'm writing more, trying to add one more voice into the dialogue.  I want to thank John for inviting me to join this forum and to listen in to your discussions.



I've been involved in the discussion at SkepticalForum and have been challenged with my use of terminology.  I've double checked these terms in the past and feel comfortable with how I've used them, but being called on it, it deserves a little more investigation.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

From the gent's post:

The words vector, trajectory, and momentum all have specific scientific definitions, none of which are applicable to climate.
    •    Climate does not have "mass", therefore it cannot have momentum.

    •    Climate does not have "velocity", therefore it cannot have momentum.

    •    Climate does not have a "magnitude", therefore it cannot have a vector.

    •    Climate does not have a "direction", therefore it cannot have a vector.

    •    Climate is not an object that moves through space as a function of time, therefore it cannot have a "trajectory".

If these fundamental scientific notions are not clear to you then you know less about scientific jargon than you claim.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here are my thoughts for beginning my reply, but I'm wondering if anyone had any thoughts to share?

It requires a bit of geopoetry to grasp the reality and majesty of our planet and its physical processes... dynamics.  For instance I know you take offense when I say that “weather is nestled within climate.”  But, seems to me that’s the natural reality of the thing.  Would you say "Climate" is more about being a tool for understanding and describing long term weather patterns?

It occurs to me that changing “climate” to “weather” would make it:
•    Weather has "mass", therefore it can have momentum.

•    Weather has "velocity", therefore it can have momentum.

•    Weather has "magnitude", therefore it can have a vector.

•    Weather has "direction", therefore it can have a vector.

•    Weather is an object that moves through space as a function of time, therefore it can have a "trajectory."

since climate is the sum of long term weather... ergo...

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Any thoughts on Climate as an entity?   Does calling weather an entity, as I do, make sense?

Any thoughts on the difference between weather and climate, beyond climate being long term weather?

2011-01-10 18:35:00
Peter Miesler

Oh and then there is "thermomass."

The way it seems to me GHGs increase their thermomass as they interact with the sun's rays.

The exposed polar ocean is collecting more thermomass.

Any thoughts?

2011-01-10 22:19:43
Paul D


Some views of my own:

I quite like the word trajectory to describe the inevitable direction climate is likely to take. I don't have a problem with that particular word being used in a wider context.

As for the other words you are using, in a strict science/engineering context mass, velocity, momentum and vector have specific meanings and would not be used in general terms describing climate or weather.

The word 'direction' is more generic and could be used to in the context of weather, climate, career, travel, events etc.

Your switching of climate to weather doesn't make a lot of difference. In a scientific sense, weather doesn't have a magnitude, but something like wind velocity does.

In reality some of the words you are using refer to quantities that can be measured, eg rain fall, wind velocity, insolation etc.
But weather and climate do no have a single quantity that can be measured, so using words like mass or velocity is meaningless.

2011-01-11 01:00:30


I agree with The Ville.

I do not believe that that it is appropriate to invent new terminology in this way.

2011-01-11 06:30:11throw me a bone... please
Peter Miesler


The Ville: "switching of climate to weather doesn't make a lot of difference"  ...  ouch.

I am a layman but have no interest in "inventing" new terminology, or "correcting" scientists... I'm much more interested in getting a better handle on my sloppy use of terminology.  Can you suggest where I go with this.  For instance what would be a more appropriate way of conveying the ideas in the following statements?

Hurricane's (& weather fronts) have mass, velocity, direction, magnitude, don't they?   GHG's have a mass, once they get up there and interact with the sun's rays, their "thermo" properties are slightly altered, how are those changes described?  How would the "mass" difference between high and low pressure areas be described?   Or the differences between moisture laden air masses and dry air masses be described.

Oh and thank you for the replies I do appreciate them, those few sentences have taken me much further than I've been able to find culling through the internet ~ please continue.

2011-01-11 09:11:59
Glenn Tamblyn


I haven't seen the post you are referring to but some general observations.


In the strict scientific/engineering usage of the terms, your opponents criticisms seem valid. Climate cannot be described as having these properties. Even weather can't since weather is a generic term for all the parts of a system. It would be more valid to talk about a single weather system having these properties - a hurricane has a velocity, etc.


That said, in day to day colloquial usage these terms are commonly used in the way you have used them - we talk of political movements gathering momentum. So the key thing to bear in mind is the way in which you are trying to use the terms. If your usage is colloquial and your respondent is trying to ping you on technical usage, showing that the usage is colloquial may make them look like a pompous nit-picker.

2011-01-11 10:58:14
Paul D



I'm not sure a hurricane has mass since it is a transient thing, or it is very difficult to measure because it is to big and changing rapidly.

It would have a velocity and direction.
There is also the beaufort scale, which I guess can be associated with 'magnitude'.


I don't think molecular mass changes with increase or decrease in energy (temperature), unless a molecule gains or loses an electron, proton or neutron. Maybe a physicist can confirm this.


The energy or temperature of a substance is defined by the movement of it's molecules, which I don't think has an effect on the molecular mass. The more movement, the more energy and higher the temperature.

Actually there was a really good BBC Horizon programme about temperature this evening, presented by Ben Miller.


2011-01-11 11:11:38
Paul D



"GHG's have a mass, once they get up there and interact with the sun's rays, their "thermo" properties are slightly altered, how are those changes described?  "

This page is quite good at explaining IR spectroscopy:


The properties of CO2 or GHGs only change in that they are given a 'kick' by an absorbed photon and start vibrating until they have emitted a photon of the same frequency that they absorbed. The absorbed photon, creates an imbalance in the molecules charges and that causes it to vibrate.

GHGs don't generally interact much with sunlight, that is half the reason why they are GHGs
They interact with the infrared radiation that is emitted by the ground, oceans, etc. That IR is produced because most sunlight travels through the atmosphere largely unhindered and hits the ground.

Photons are assumed to be massless.

2011-01-11 12:02:33thank you
Peter Miesler

Thank you for those thoughtful replies.  I will be looking up and reading those links with interest.  GT thank you, I had a sense of that but having you spell it out was really good {you're not missing anything by not seeing the post ;-)}

 Ville, thank you for pinging me on the GHGs, infrared is being absorbed, I knew that... it just got lost in the sauce.  Talk about amateur sloppiness.

I do appreciate you folks taking the time to lend your insights, it has helped a lot, after some more reading, and digestion, I'm going to be ready to go.


2011-01-11 16:12:58the response
Peter Miesler

CC:   Perhaps a sober appraisal of our past couple centuries, in particular this past century and it's trajectory. And perhaps an appreciation that all of this has some mighty massive momentum behind it.

BG:  Does climate have a trajectory?  Ballistic objects have momentum that can be precisely determined, how do you appraise the momentum and trajectory of climate change?

X:   Clearly, citizenschallenge is misusing the technical terms "trajectory" and "momentum" in this context. Perhaps citizenschallenge will explain why. Perhaps it is just sloppy usage of technical terms."

In a purely technical scientific sense my usage was/is sloppy.

To keep this from becoming an empty pissing contest, allow me a little more bio.  For whatever reason I’ve grown up with a visceral connect to the land and sky and water.  My passion for science is born out of my desire to understand the creation I stand in the middle of and in awe of.  I also have a keen awareness of standing on the knife edge of eternity {creation} stretching out in both directions.  So I sometimes allow myself poetic license in trying to convey what I feel about the processes I witness. Which is why I am constantly linking to real science studies that the serious folks have undertaken.

X let me ask you something... You know that I present my opinions and then offer legitimate links, to real scientists and their studies.  Why do you always try to tag me on something personal?  Why not address the science links I provide?  Oh sure, I know you’ve insulted a couple SkepticalScience.org links, but never anything explicit, just something you didn’t agree with.  Come on now, that isn’t how the scientific process works!  Even among amateurs.  Where has any of your attitude embraced a desire for discovery and understanding?

PS. wrestling with your post, I’ve come to realize something else.

A question I would like to ask.

Why do you think that only scientists can understand what is happening within our atmosphere, which is then reflected in weather and climate?


So there it is. 

Any feedback would be appreciate.  Hard Ball critique being most valued.  ;-)

2011-01-11 16:27:10
Peter Miesler

 In reviewing this thread the following smacked me:

Ville: "I'm not sure a hurricane has mass since it is a transient thing, or it is very difficult to measure because it is to big and changing rapidly."

 This doesn't compute, what does the fact of a hurricane's transients have to do with it's mass? ... or trajectory, or momentum? 

2011-01-11 21:38:53
Paul D



Hurricane is not normally thought of as a physical entity as such, it is just a word for a wind or weather system with energy above a certain level (given roughly by the Beaufort scale).

Hurricane is a word that describes kinetic energy being realised at a certain location in Earths atmosphere, I'm not sure it is useful from the perspective of discussing hurricanes to allocate mass to a hurricane, other than in computer modelling possibly, where you might want to allocate a mass to the elements in the model in order to produce a realistic behaviour. But even in that case you are not allocating mass to the hurricane, the mass is allocated to the elements in the atmosphere that your model will use to generate a hurricane.

It's not that the components of a hurricane don't have mass, it is the question as to whether that information serves any useful purpose when wind speeds and forces are normally discussed and are more useful.

2011-01-11 21:55:46
Paul D


citizenschallenge your discussion that you have posted about the use of the word trajectory is interesting.

Although, can you place copies of these discussions in italics so that it is clear it isn't a new discussion you are starting here.
I didn't understand your post that mentions CC, BG, X etc. at first.


To be honest, your opponents are probably playing games with you, assuming or knowing your knowledge is less advanced.
It is quite common for opponents to not bother to try and understand what you are trying to convey.

I suggest using a dictionary (I certainly do) when in 'combat'.

For instance the online Merriam Webster dictionary states this for 'trajectory':

"1. the curve that a body (as a planet or comet in its orbit or a rocket) describes in space "
"2. a path, progression, or line of development resembling a physical trajectory (an upward career trajectory) "

IMO the context in which you use the word in your discussion is reasonable and 'trajectory' is a suitable word because climate is relative imprecise definition and you are using a broader (the second) meaning of the word trajectory.
If you were talking about a newtonian physics problem and mis-used the word trajectory, then your opponents critique might be justified.

The other point of course is have confidence and do some research (such as check the dictionary and use it in your defence) .

2011-01-12 02:58:00
Peter Miesler

thanks for the info Ville.

I know they are playing with me and doing all they can to avoid actually thinking about the issues, but I'm playing along.  For my process nothing seems to encourage the learning as much as being confounded by come contrarian - so on one level it is a merry-go-round but one that is benefiting my learning.  I did/do use the dictionary, but I got a lot more out of the above posts.

I'll be more careful with formatting next time.


2011-01-28 14:00:20velocity, magnitude, direction
Peter Miesler

I just made a new discovery Stu Ostro’s WeatherInsights®: The Weather Channel Blog
It’s a visual and descriptive review of the year’s weather over the USA. He’s been doing this for five years now, some interesting stuff.

I believe weather is nestled within our climate ~ thus our weather IS reflecting the changes within our climate.    Sure, sure, one weather event can not be blamed on our warming climate, but a pearl string of dozens of cascading events?

This meteorologist has collected the visual and interpretive evidence, on the web for our viewing - sorry it is only the USA, but he's only one guy.    


Going through Ostro’s images kicked in some cognitive dissonance as I remembered his thread. 

How can it be said that weather doesn’t have velocity, magnitude, direction, vector, looking at those satellite images of these weather systems?

The Villa said:
I'm not sure a hurricane has mass since it is a transient thing, or it is very difficult to measure because it is to big and changing rapidly.

V.   I've been wondering what does transient have to do with it - everything is transient?

And what does ability to measure have to do with its physical properties?

2011-01-29 00:20:36
Paul D


There is a difference between the components of weather and the broad meaning that the word 'weather' has.
However one could talk about a 'weather front' which has a specific meaning and it is possible to associate a velocity and direction to it.


The problem is the context in which you use the word weather.

I posted a link to the definition of the Beaufort scale, that is the nearest thing to a measurement of a hurricane.