THE BLOG

Snow in Barcelona: Weather vs. Climate (VIDEO)

05/09/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It took snow in my Mediterranean port city to force me to examine the difference between climate and weather.

Yesterday it snowed in Barcelona. This is a city where the average low temperature for the month is 9 degrees Celcius (48 °F). Not only did it snow, but the snow stuck to the ground and right at sea level (not just in the surrounding mountains).

I witnessed someone making a snow angel at the seaport and my daughter made her first snowball. The very unusual snowstorm threw the city into a bit of chaos: buses stopped running, schools shut down and some neighborhoods lost electricity.

El Niño probably played a hand in this. After all, it is the year for this phenomenon, a climate pattern that occurs every 3-7 years when fluctuations in Pacific-Ocean surface temperatures cause changes in worldwide weather. But despite being the year for a bit of craziness, it's still a very strange thing to see snow at sea level in Barcelona.

At first, I wanted to blame it on climate change; after all, scientists have predicted that more extreme weather events (droughts, hurricanes, snowstorms) will be the side effects of global warming. But crazy weather is not climate change. Weather is what happens today in my city and climate is what happens worldwide over a decade or a century.

Still, for most of this decade, I've seen mostly hot and dry weather. During the European heat wave of 2003 (in France there were over 14,000 heat-related deaths), I sweltered in Sevilla where a digital street sign read 45 °C (113 °F). Two years ago, Barcelona, during its worst drought in recorded history, actually began to import water by boat from France.

So while one day of snow in this Mediterranean city doesn't mean anything on a grand scale, it did force me to differentiate wacky weather from a changing climate.

In this video, I took out my camera in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, panning to the seaside and onto the terrace of faircompanies headquarters and home to document our day -- and my 3-year-old's first glimpse of snow. My husband, Barcelona native and faircompanies founder Nicolás Boullosa, muses on what it all means.