JoAnne Skelly: Weather and climate in Nevada

Gardeners pay attention to weather and hopefully are also aware of Nevada’s climate. What’s the difference? I’m sitting here watching a front blow through. The trees are wildly waving, the sky is overcast and it’s snowing in the mountains. That’s weather. Climate, on the other hand, tells me what to expect year to year, when the average last or first frost date is, or what the average precipitation is.

There’s a new fact sheet out, “Nevada’s Weather and Climate” from University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, written by Kerri Jean Ormerod, Water, Climate, & Drought Hazards Program Leader and Stephanie McAfee, Deputy State Climatologist. They write “Weather and climate are related, but they are not the same. The difference between weather and climate is time. Practically speaking, weather determines which clothes you decide to put on today, but climate determines the type of clothes that are in your closet.”

They point out “weather can change over the course of minutes, hours, days or weeks. Climate is the usual or expected weather for a particular place or region, which is typically evaluated over a 30-year time period referred to as a normal. The time scale for climate is months, seasons, years, decades, centuries and even millennia.”

I’m a weather and climate fan, so I get excited when I read an excellent explanation of meteorology and climatology or El Niño versus La Niña. I appreciated their discussion of an atmospheric river. I had thought it was just a trendy way of saying what we used to call “the Pineapple Express.” However, when they wrote an atmospheric river can contain “more water than seven to 15 Mississippi Rivers combined,” this term made more sense. The atmospheric river is often a driver of precipitation in Western Nevada.

As gardeners, we often use the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zones map to select plants from a nursery. The growing zones are based on averaging 30 years of minimum winter temperatures. But as gardeners, we also need to consider other weather and climate factors when selecting plants, such as the likelihood of drying winter winds and lack of winter precipitation, because cold is only one stress factor that influences plant survival.

If you want to find out more, or discover what “orographic lifting” is and how it affects the amount of precipitation we receive, I hope you will read “Nevada’s Weather and Climate” available online at

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment