Weather Science for Children
The official name for the science of weather is meteorology. It’s the job of meteorologists to study weather patterns and forecast (predict) weather and possible extreme weather.
Weather is all around us. It’s the condition of the atmosphere. Weather affects all aspects of life, from clouds, rain, and snow to wind, thunder, and sunshine, so understanding the science behind it is important. Weather also includes pressure in the air, temperature, and humidity.
Weather affects all parts of daily life. Therefore, we must be able to track weather patterns and predict what weather we will experience and when. For example, poor weather conditions can lead to crop damage and flooding.
Children will learn about the weather and the science behind it in geography. Throughout KS1 and KS2, children will develop an understanding of what weather is, the different types of weather, what impact the weather, the seasons, and extreme weather events.
What Are the Types of Weather?
To understand the science of weather and how it’s caused, you’ll need to understand the different types of weather. Weather is the condition of the atmosphere. So, the weather describes what is happening to the air. This includes temperature, pressure, movement, and what the air carries, which impacts the weather we experience.
The main types of weather conditions are:
Weather science, or meteorology, explains how and why we experience each weather condition. And this all starts with the air.
What is the Difference Between Weather and Climate?
Weather is the conditions of the atmosphere. Climate is the average weather conditions of a location over a long period. This means different places on Earth have different climates.
Here’s a helpful distinction:
- Weather = ‘Today has been wet and cloudy.’
- Climate = ‘England has cold, wet winters’
What Causes Weather and Climate?
Weather is caused by the heat of the Sun, the movement of air, and the resulting conditions of the lower layer of the atmosphere, where all weather occurs. The Sun’s heat warms up the air in the atmosphere, this warm air rises, and cold air comes in underneath to replace it. This air movement is known as wind and causes different weather. Moisture in the air is also a cause of varying temperatures. As heat from the sun causes water vapor to rise, this eventually causes clouds to form. The different conditions within clouds can lead to rain, snow, or fog.
What is a cloud? A cloud is a collection of water droplets or ice crystals in the sky. Clouds only appear to us as white or grey because they reflect the sunlight.
How do clouds form? This is all to do with evaporation and condensation:
- Warm air begins to rise upwards. The atmosphere contains water vapor evaporated from the rivers, seas, lakes, and oceans.
- As this warm air rises, it begins to cool. Cool air is unable to hold as much water vapor as warm air.
- So, water vapor condenses onto tiny dust particles, called condensation nuclei, in the air forming a cloud droplet.
- These cloud droplets are tiny and can stay afloat on air currents. Billions of cloud droplets together form a cloud.
Clouds are central to the science behind weather. Because of clouds and their droplets, we have precipitation (rain).
The three main types of clouds are:
- Cirrus: these clouds are formed high in the sky and are made of ice crystals.
- Stratus: this featureless cloud appears as a layer of fog.
- Cumulus: these fluffy clouds are the most common and appear on sunny days, but can also develop into thunderclouds.
Ten clouds are combined with cirrus, stratus, and cumulus. Other types of clouds include:
When clouds become too dense with water droplets, this causes precipitation. Precipitation is water falling from the shadows, which can fall as rain, snow, sleet, or hail.
Precipitation is a part of the Water Cycle. But, again, the science behind this type of weather is all about evaporation and condensation. As the sun heats the ground, it causes water to evaporate and form water vapor. This warm air rises and cools, condensing into clouds. As cloud droplets get larger and heavier, they fall as rain. This type of rainfall is known as convectional rainfall.
Other types of rain are all formed when air is forced to rise over a hill or mountains (relief rainfall) and based on the temperature of the air (frontal rain).
Why does it snow? When the temperatures are low enough, ice crystals in clouds join together to form snowflakes. As they join together, they become heavier, eventually falling to the ground. Sleet is a mix of rain and snow. It occurs when falling snow melts and refreezes before falling to the ground.
Hail is caused when raindrops are carried upwards by strong thunderstorms. In cold areas, the water freezes to form ice balls, and every time it’s exposed to more water, the ice balls expand, becoming larger and heavier.
The wind is the flow of gases; on Earth, the wind is the movement of air. This movement is caused by air pressure in air masses, and the wind is caused when different air temperatures meet. Cool air is heavier than warm air, so there is higher pressure in cool air. And hot air creates an area of lower pressure as the air can rise. So when two areas with low and high pressure meet, the air will move from the high-pressure area to the low-pressure area, creating wind.
In areas of high pressure, we experience sunny, dry conditions. And in areas of low pressure, we experience stormy, wet conditions.
Due to its constant movement based on temperature, the wind often causes a change in weather. In areas of high pressure, the wind blows lightly, and the air moves downwards; this stops clouds from forming. However, the air rises in low-pressure regions, and clouds form with precipitation. As a result, the weather in low-pressure areas is often wet, cloudy, and windy.
The wind is important to weather science as it plays the main role in whether we experience clear, sunny days or cloudy, wet days.
How Do Thunderstorms Form?
On a warm, sunny day, the Earth’s surface is heated by the sun. The air above the surface is therefore heated too. This warm air is lighter and less dense than the cooler air so it will rise. This warm air then heats the upper levels of the atmosphere. The meeting of hot and cool air creates unstable air, essential to forming a thunderstorm. Rain, or hail, then fall. As the air cools, it pushes the rain around, causing a strong wind. It’s this erratic movement that causes thunder and lightning.
Lightning is natural electricity. It’s created as pieces of ice within the clouds are moved around aggressively. As these pieces of ice collide, static electricity is produced. This builds up and eventually releases in the form of lightning. Thunder is lightning’s noise as it is removed from the cloud.
Including blizzards, floods, tornadoes, and hurricanes, extreme weather differs from the regular weather pattern. Extreme weather includes:
- Dust storm
- Ice storm
What causes extreme weather? The science behind severe weather is all about the rate of evaporation, the temperature of the air, and its pressure. An increased amount of warmer air causes extreme weather. This increases evaporation and results in our atmosphere containing more water vapor. These are all the key components for severe weather to occur.
Climate Change and Global Warming
As weather and climate are so closely linked, climate change is increasing the occurrence of extreme weather events. This is because global warming is causing our oceans to grow warmer, evaporating more quickly and causing greater amounts of atmospheric moisture. This results in unstable conditions, which, as we know by now, are the ideal conditions for extreme weather.
This is just one reason why weather science is so important: it can allow us to make changes in our daily lives that will enable us to reduce the risks of climate change.
Measuring the Weather
Meteorologists use different weather instruments to measure and record the weather. These instruments are typically located in weather stations placed around the country. Weather instruments are also found in the sea, on planes, and within satellites.
Here’s a list of weather instruments:
- Six’s Thermometer: This special thermometer measures the maximum and minimum air temperature over 24 hours.
- Stevenson Screen: These shelters contain thermometers. This is because temperature needs to be measured in the shade, and the thermometer is protected and raised off the ground.
- Rain Gauge: This measures the amount of precipitation that has fallen in 24 hours.
- Campbell-Stokes Sunshine Recorder: A glass sphere that concentrates the Sun’s rays on a strip of card, burning a small hole. This enables us to measure the amount of sunshine during the day as the Sun moves; the rays are pointed at a different section of the card. The length of burnt areas can be added up.
- Wind Vane: This shows the wind’s direction.
- Barometer: This measures air pressure.
- Anemometer: An anemometer measures wind speed in miles or km per hour.