Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather generally refers to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate is the term for the average atmospheric conditions over longer periods of time. When used without qualification, "weather", is understood to mean the weather of Earth.
Weather is driven by air pressure (temperature and moisture) differences between one place and another. These pressure and temperature differences can occur due to the sun angle at any particular spot, which varies by latitude from the tropics. The strong temperature contrast between polar and tropical air gives rise to the jet stream. Weather systems in the mid-latitudes, such as extratropical cyclones, are caused by instabilities of the jet stream flow. Because the Earth's axis is tilted relative to its orbital plane, sunlight is incident at different angles at different times of the year. On Earth's surface, temperatures usually range ±40 °C (−40 °F to 100 °F) annually. Over thousands of years, changes in Earth's orbit affect the amount and distribution of solar energy received by the Earth and influence long-term climate and global climate change.
Snow is precipitation in the form of flakes of crystalline water ice that falls from clouds. Since snow is composed of small ice particles, it is a granular material. It has an open and therefore soft, white, and fluffy structure, unless subjected to external pressure. Snowflakes come in a variety of sizes and shapes. Types that fall in the form of a ball due to melting and refreezing, rather than a flake, are known as hail, ice pellets or snow grains.
The process of precipitating snow is called snowfall. Snowfall tends to form within regions of upward movement of air around a type of low-pressure system known as an extratropical cyclone. Snow can fall poleward of these systems' associated warm fronts and within their comma head precipitation patterns (called such due to the comma-like shape of the cloud and precipitation pattern around the poleward and west sides of extratropical cyclones). Where relatively warm water bodies are present, for example because of water evaporation from lakes, lake-effect snowfall becomes a concern downwind of the warm lakes within the cold cyclonic flow around the backside of extratropical cyclones. Lake-effect snowfall can be heavy locally. Thundersnow is possible within a cyclone's comma head and within lake effect precipitation bands. In mountainous areas, heavy snow is possible where upslope flow is maximized within windward sides of the terrain at elevation, if the atmosphere is cold enough. Snowfall amount and its related liquid equivalent precipitation amount are measured using a variety of different rain gauges.