Climate Change: When Do Weather Patterns Become The New Norm?

Have you ever noticed when the weather stays the same for several days in a row?

Normally, weather systems move over a region and pass through it, steered by jet stream winds (usually represented by blue squiggly lines on weather maps). But when airflow in the upper atmosphere disturbs the flow, weather may linger over one spot for days or weeks on end.

When this happens, you might begin to wonder when the weather will let up … or if it has settled more permanently.

Gone in days, or here to stay?

Knowing when a weather pattern will linger so long that you’ll need to adjust to it can be difficult to determine. However, considering the type of weather pattern might offer clues.

If a weather pattern is triggered by strangely behaving high or low pressure systems (the blue H’s and red L’s seen on weather maps), expect it to last for several days, or at most, a couple of weeks. That is, just long enough to become a temporary norm. 

A map of pressure systems for an article on signs of climate change.
Weather that is a reaction to moving pressure systems is most likely temporary and not necessarily an indication of permanent climate change.

Temporary Weather Changes

Heat Waves

Heat waves form when high pressure in the upper atmosphere parks itself over a location, blocking other highs and lows from bringing other weather into an area.

Why do these patterns make such a short stay? Highs and lows generally weaken or are pushed out after about 5-7 days and the weather they create goes along with them.

3 Types Of More Permanent Weather Changes

Weather patterns triggered by fluctuations in ocean temperatures and other features that impact large areas of the globe (global warming), are more likely to influence daily weather conditions for a prolonged period of time. (See climate change definition below.) Since the features that cause them change more gradually, these patterns tend to linger for months, seasons, and even years.

As for how many months, seasons, or years these patterns need to hang around to be dubbed a “new norm” (and official climate change), that’s a question that has no exact answer.

North American Monsoon and El Niño

Today, we know events like the North American Monsoon, a pattern that brings rain and thunderstorms to the southwestern United States every June to September, and El Niño, a climate pattern that appears every 3-5 years, lasts about a year, and brings milder weather to northern parts of the nation, and wetter weather to the south, are here to stay. 

We know this because scientists have observed these weather patterns for decades—long enough to recognize their cyclical behavior.

Longterm Droughts

Other long-term patterns aren’t as predictable. Take droughts, for example. They start as a streak of rainless and snowless days and weeks. But because there’s no rhyme or reason to when precipitation will fall or how much will fall (it varies from week to week and month to month), it takes time to see if a dry spell will build or bust.

Only after experiencing less precipitation than normal for a string of months, is it clear that a drought is occurring. 

For weather patterns like these, it’s best to follow a standard used by meteorologists when seeking trends: If it lingers for, or appears like clockwork during a 5-year period or longer, it’s an indication that some normality is present. Anything less and you can chalk it up to natural variability—just an odd few years.

Longterm droughts are an example of climate change.
Sad farmer is sitting in a agricultural field during the long drought.

Weather patterns not only directly influence a location’s normal weather. If a pattern does last for years and the weather it brings is extreme enough, it can also affect a location’s overall local climate, something scientists call “climate normals.” These values tell you what weather to expect on any given day and in any given month, season, or year, based on the average weather experienced over the past 30 years.

Of course, when you’re in a lousy weather pattern, it only takes 30 hours, not years, for that weather to feel like it’ll never change! So much for Mark Twain’s famous words, “If you don’t like the weather now, just wait a few minutes.”

Climate Change Definition

This topic of climate change is often highly politicized. The Farmers’ Almanac is not political but has been an advocate of observing nature, natural trends, and tradition over generations.

What is climate change? The United Nations says, “Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns. These shifts may be natural, but since the 1800s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels (like coal, oil, and gas) which produces heat-trapping gases.”

Join The Discssion!

What weather patterns have you noticed by you over the last few years?

Have you experienced a drought this summer?

How many years in a row have you noticed a drought in your area?

What are some of your concerns about climate change?

What is your climate change definition?

Let us know in the comments below!

Keep Learning

What’s the difference between weather and climate?

Glossary of Weather Terms

Atmosphere That Affects The Weather

Visit the United Nations website to learn more about climate change.

Farmers' Almanac - Hair coloring
Tiffany Means

Tiffany Means is a freelance writer and a degreed meteorologist. She specializes in weather forecasting and enjoys making the subject of weather (and the science behind it) more relatable. She currently resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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Mark Annese

Of course the climate is going to change. It has been since the beginning of time on planet Earth. What happened to the dinosaurs? The Earth is like a spinning top. To think that the Earth will spin on it’s same axis and revolution for infinity doesn’t make sense. Then there’s the sun, a burning ball of fire. Do we also assume that it will remain static for infinity as well? These events definitely effect climate. Human kind also contributes to the climate, just to what degree? Are the current proposed solutions well thought out with a consideration of how the implementation might actually effect the environment as well as the economy? It would seem pretty ignorant to spend tons of money for something that really makes little impact on controlling the climate and could be extremely detrimental. Mining for lithium minerals to replace all fossil fuel equipment would be monumental and a huge impact on the surface of the planet. Then how do you dispose of the massive amount of toxic waste that will be produced by such an endeavor? This all or nothing approach is dangerous to say the least and to demonize people who express concerns with the plan is foolish. Think people!

Val

I am lucky enough to live in the mountains of Western North Carolina and the weather here is normally mild. However, what I have noticed are the trees budding sooner. By sooner I mean a month before normal time. Most people attribute it to warmer months which can typically be caused by weather patterns. Yet plant growth is dependant upon soil temperature. Part of a plants growth is budding in the spring and these trees in my area have started their growth almost a full month and a half earlier. I also notice animals, whose normal habitats are being invaded by people and affected by weather, traveling hundreds of miles away to find new homes. There are more panthers/cougars in my area that had almost vanished due to upswing in building and human growth. Still, their habitats in Florida are growing smaller and less suitable so they are on the move again. I do not claim any political affiliations and do not listen to politicians on the matter of climate change but I do listen to animals and nature, and they are starting to chatter!

Ann

If climate change is real, why isn’t the whole globe on board with stopping oil production? I see it as political and a lot of climate change experts trying to control everyone and getting rich. I’ve seen a lot of different weather patterns and there is no climate change where I live. I hope farmers almanac stays neutral from politics and is truthful with all the info that is written.

BILLY

HI ANN
THE MASS WILD FIRES, FLOODING AND EXTREME HIGH TEMPERATURES IN OUR COUNTRY AND ALL THROUGH OUT EUROPE SHOULD BE A WAKE UP CALL FOR THE WORLD.

SCIENTISTS ALL OVER THE WORLD PLUS NASA THE U.S. WEATHER SERVICE AND NOAH HAVE PROVEN TIME AND TIME AGAIN CLIMATE CHANGE IS REAL. PLEASE LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE AND NOT LISTEN TO THE POLITICAL RHETORIC WHICH HAS IGNORED THE EVIDENCE DO TO THE LOBBYING BY THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY!!! JUST GOOGLE THE FLOODING AND SUFFERING IN PAKISTANI.

THERE ARE PLENTY OF DOCUMENTARIES BY NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CALLED LIVING DANGEROUSLY AND BEFORE THE FLOOD WHICH DISCUSS AND HAVE UNDISPUTED EVIDENCE THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS OCCURRING AS WE SPEAK.
HOUSTON TEXAS HAD 48 INCHES OF RAIN AFTER A HURRICANE WENT THROUGH SEVERAL YEARS AGO. EASTERN KENTUCKY HAD 12 INCHES IF RAIN IN THE APPALACHIAN AREA WHICH HAS DEVASTATED PEOPLES HOME AND BUSINESSES.
IF YOU OPEN YOUR HEART AND LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE AND NOT LISTEN TO THE POLITICIANS YOU MAY HAVE A DIFFERENT OPINION.

Mark Annese

Maybe forest management should be a priority? The CO2 that is expelled by the fires is enormous. Then a result of the fires is that the burnt trees on the ground continue to expel CO2 and are no longer available to absorb the CO2. Cleanup up the forest floors of the burnt trees and replant new ones to absorb the CO2. Flooding is another major concern that should be managed. We have places ravaged by drought and decimated by floods. Why can’t we build infrastructure to be able to move water from flooded areas to drought areas? Even the Romans knew how to build aqueducts. Like everything else in our society, politicization will be the demise, and it ain’t just one side that’s doing it. Demonizing people that don’t agree is foolish. How about a open serious discussion?

Leanne Koren

Excellent article! Based on facts and science not politics.

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