Initial Publication Date: August 12, 2008

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 NOAA's U.S. Climate Atlas.
  2. At the Climate Atlas site, select the Variable "Max Temp" located on the left side of the page. Select "Climatology" for the Year. Select "Annual" for the Month.
  3. On the map below, you will see the average maximum temperatures.
  4. To the right, click the "Off" button below Compare, and you will be able to compare two maps.
  5. In the second selection set that appears, choose "Min Temp", "Climatology", and "Annual". Make sure that the "Over" button below "On" is selected. Now you can slide the bar to compare the two maps. The map for the upper line options will be on the left, and the map for the lower line will be on the right.
  6. Check the average temperatures at your location.
  7. Change your "Min Temp" Variable to "Precip" to view average annual precipitation. Compare this map with your Avg Maximum Temperature map. Identify and explore patterns between the two maps. Do the same with Minimum Temperature and Precipitation.
  8. Explore a few years and months to compare.

Stop and Think

9. Use the maps you generated to describe the normal weather for May 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 .png file 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.