Sunday, September 11, 2011

Analyzing Local Weather Data

These days, there are numerous sources and tools on the internet that provide access to live weather data, which can be used to practice and refine data interpretation skills. In our school district, data interpretation is one of the essential middle level science learnings:
"Students can interpret, analyze, and evaluate data and recognize bias in order to formulate logical conclusions."
ASOS: the National Weather Service's
automated weather observing network
The National Weather Service provides a plethora of weather data that is ideal for use in the classroom. In my last post, I talked about hurricane data. In this post, I'd like to explore local weather data.

On a daily, monthly, and yearly basis, the National Weather Service records and archives basic weather data such as temperature, pressure, wind, precipitation, etc. In most places across the United States, there is more than 100 years worth of data in the climate archives—all of this data is accessible online. This data can be used in the classroom to analyze local patterns and trends.

To access the National Weather Service climate data:

  1. Go to
  2. Type your zip code into the Local Forecast box in the top left corner
  3. On the next page, select the link to your local National Weather Service office in the top left corner—it looks like "NWS Denver-Boulder CO"
  4. On the next page, look for the Climate section along the left panel and select the Local link. 

From here, you and your students have access to all of the local climate data and records. One of the reports I use with my students is the "Climatological Summary Month-to-Date," which provides a table of the current month's daily weather statistics. Each day during one month, we start our science class by pulling up this page and recording the previous day's high temperature, low temperature, and precipitation in our own data tables. At the end of the month, we graph, summarize, and analyze the data. Students reflect on the following questions:

  • What was the average high temperature for the month?
  • What was the average low temperature for the month?
  • What was the total precipitation for the month?
  • How much warmer or colder than normal was this month?
  • How much wetter or drier than normal was this month?
  • Based on the data, how would you summarize this month's weather?
  • Were there any notable or unusual weather events this month?
  • Were there any record weather events this month?

We should seek every opportunity to bring authentic data into the classroom to promote scientific literacy and help students make real world connections. One of my favorite quotes that bears repeating (often):
"If you're scientifically literate, the world looks very different to you, and that understanding empowers you..." —Neil deGrasse Tyson, Astrophysicist
The National Weather Service is but one of the many science organizations that publishes useful data online. I will discuss others in future posts...

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