Whether Weather is Climate: the Local Snow Line


First a true confession: the title of this piece should really be “When Weather is Climate”, but a clever (?) use of a homophone seemed more catchy.

Many of us in Riverdale believe that there is a “snow line” that extends south and east of  231st St. Above (north and west) of this line it often snows and sticks, even when below the line the ground may be clear. For those of us who live above the line, it often leads to complicated discussions with bosses and dinner dates that may be below the line:

“I’m snowed in…”


Now even if you live elsewhere, you may have noticed similar areas of local weather or climate difference, and it is this difference that got us thinking. At first, like any intrepid reporter and bad scientist we went looking for the facts to back up our poorly conceived hypothesis. Finally though, like any good English professor, we decided the difference was somehow rooted in the vocabulary itself, because after all, words matter. They shape our perception of reality.

The difference here is perhaps the nuanced difference between weather and climate.

The word weather is an interesting word, one of those that can function as both a noun and a verb. Weather has its origin in Germanic/Dutch roots with a word that meant “wind.” As a noun it refers to a state of the atmosphere, implicitly in an area where a person can feel the wind: i.e., right here.

The local color of the word weather extends to its use as a verb.  To weather is to erode, or wear away. The word then is fraught with the seeds of connotation. Inherently it suggests the local, as well as personally feeling the effects of the wind. A wind that can wear you down. A thing which is imposed from without which we cannot control.

Climate on the other hand is derived from Greek and Latin words. Remember that Greek and Latin through the long march of history were international languages, suggesting the sweep of things global. Originally, climate meant a slope or zone, and it referred to an atmospheric phenomena between at least two lines of latitude. Depending on the longitude at which you are measuring, this could be at least 69 miles: definitively not local.

Don't let it escape you though that local weather is inextricably tied to climate in ways that are impossible to untangle. Remember that it has been argued that a butterfly beating her wings locally can spur climatic change across the globe. Between the words there is a range of connection in the physical world.

So where does this leave us? Is there a snow line on 231st St, or where you live? Only a local would know. One more persnickety detail: News 12 take note, “Hyperlocal Weather” is a truly ridiculous redundancy.


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