EarthLabs > Drought > Lab 3: Normal Climate Patterns > 3C: Maps that Describe Climate

Normal Climate Patterns

Part C: Maps that Describe Climate

While graphs can show us how climate changes over time, maps give us a chance to see how climate varies across an area such as a region, continent, or the even the whole world. In this next section, you will generate and view maps of average annual temperature and precipitation.
Map of Mean Annual Temperature Contiguous United States. Source: NCDC. Click image for a larger view.
  1. To generate map views of mean temperature and precipitation patterns across the contiguous United States, access NCDC's Climate Atlas of the United States.
    Notes: 1) These maps do not show the most recent 30-year climate normals, but are sufficient for this lesson. 2) Annual summary maps are available as downloadable PDF files, and GIS-ready shapefiles from the CLIMAP website.
  2. At the CLIMAP site, click the Quick Search link located on the left side of the page.
  3. On the page that opens, select the Region "Lower 48 States," and the Map Category "Temperature" then click continue.
  4. Choose "Mean Daily Average Temperature" for your Map Type. You will see a list of Averages; choose the last one on the list, "TEMPERATURE - Mean Daily Average Temperature (Annual)."
  5. Click the link to download and view the Lower 48 States, TEMPERATURE - Mean Daily Average Temperature (Annual) map in PDF.
  6. Check the average temperature at your location.
    Temperatures reported on the map are mean (average) temperatures that include day and night temperatures from all seasons.
  7. Map of Mean Annual Precipitation Contiguous United States. Source: NCDC. Click image for a larger view.
  8. Go back to the US Climate Atlas window. Keep your Region "Lower 48 States," and change your Map Category to "Precipitation" and click continue. On the next page, choose "Mean Maximum Daily Precipitation." Download the new Lower 48 States, PRECIPITATION - Mean Maximum Daily Precipitation (Annual) map and open it in a new window so it is side-by-side with your temperature map, allowing you to identify and explore patterns between the two maps.
  9. Go back to the US Climate Atlas: Quick Search web portal again and explore the range of climate maps available. Be sure to look at the options under "Map Category: Other Elements" including "City Lights..." and "Seasonal Vegetation Cover" to view some interesting maps.

Stop and Think

9. Use the maps you generated to describe the normal weather for May 1 in your location.
10. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of graphical and map-based representations for climate. Which do you prefer? What information can you get from one that is not available from the other?

Communicate what you've learned about climate

Prepare a one-page handout, a poster, or an electronic presentation that communicates the normal climate of an area. Your teacher may assign you a specific region, state, or climate division within a state so that the class can compare climate patterns across an area. Go back to websites that you used in this lesson to generate graphs and maps that describe some aspect of the climate particularly well. Capture them as screen shots for use in your presentation.

  1. Be sure that any color-coded maps you use include the legend so that viewers will be able to interpret the meaning of the colors on the maps.
  2. Include clear, concise descriptions of the information contained in each of your graphs and maps. Remember that you developed your understanding of these graphics through repeated explorationwrite your descriptions clearly enough so that someone who is seeing the graphic for the first time will be able to interpret it.
  3. Include a location map so that viewers can see the location of your area within a larger context.
    • On a Windows computer, press Alt and Printscreen at the same time; this will save an image of the screen in the computer's clipboard. Place the image in a presentation document by choosing Edit > Paste.
    • On a Macintosh, press shift-command-4 (command key=apple key) and drag a box over the area of the map you want to capture. This will produce a file named Picture1.png on your desktop. Use Insert > Picture > From File to place the image into your presentation document.

Optional Extensions

Select and view other maps of climate at the PRISM website. This site allows you to select average, monthly, and anomaly datasets. You can use their internet map server for dynamic maps of temperature, precipitation, dew point data. Explore your region more closely with this tool.

Browse more recent maps and graphs of climate on Data Snapshots and Dataset Gallery pages.