EarthLabs > Climate and the Biosphere > Lab 1: Climate, Weather, and Trees > 1C: Suitable Climate for a Maple Forest

Climate, Weather, and Trees

Part C: Suitable Climate for a Maple Forest

In the last lab, 1B, as you read about the maple tree, you imagined typical Vermont weather. In this lab you will investigate the weather patterns of northwestern Vermont where the city of Burlington is located. This area is the home to the maple tree pictured in the lab.

Climate can be defined as the state of the atmosphere (the weather) at some locality, averaged over a period of time (usually 30 years). This definition also includes the extremes in weather (i.e., very hot or very cold temperatures) observed for that area for the entire period of record keeping.

Vermont is one of the states located in the northeast region of the United States known as New England. It is bordered by New York and a significant body of water, Lake Champlain, on the west and New Hampshire to the east. It is bordered on the north by Canada and to the south by Massachusetts. It is a mountainous state with lush vegetation, many notably beautiful farms, and dense forests. It is also near the North Atlantic Ocean. These physical factors determine the weather and climate of Vermont.

To get a closer look at typical Vermont scenery and weather, watch this short montage of the seasons in Vermont. Click the arrow on the first slide to start the slide show.

Vermont Seasons
Click to view
Optional: To download a PowerPoint version of this slideshow, suitable for projection, right-click this link. Vermont Seasons (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 3MB Dec2 12). Choose "Save File As..." or "Save Target As..." to save the file to your desktop or documents folder.

Create a graph of climate

After watching the montage, begin to the investigate the question: what type of weather patterns are suitable for the production of maple syrup? Start the process by graphing the 30-year average temperature and precipitation patterns for Vermont. Use the data supplied below to build a climatograph, or graph of climate. You can use the template provided below, or create your own graph.

precip / temp for graphing
  1. Download the data and an empty template for graphing here: Template for Graphing Climate Data (Acrobat (PDF) 262kB Jun18 12). To download the PDF file, right-click on the link and choose "Save File As" or "Save Link As..." or other similar command. Print the file for the graphing exercise.
  2. Acquire two different colored pencils, such as yellow and red.
  3. Use the left vertical axis for temperature, and the right vertical axis for precipitation. The months of the year are labeled for you on the horizontal axis.
  4. Use the yellow colored pencil to graph the temperature using a line-type graph.
  5. Use a red colored pencil to graph the rainfall data with a bar-type graph.
  6. When you have completed your graph, compare it to a completed graph of Vermont climate pictured below.
    Click the image for a larger view. Then, read the graph legend carefully, as the the graph pictured below also includes the average monthly temperature and rainfall patterns for 2010. Note how climatographs can be used to compare one year's weather to the long term averages. Note: Your graph may vary slightly as this completed graph was downloaded from a different site than the data in the table.

    You may want to go to the Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program website to investigate these types of graphs for other states, regions, or time periods.
    The data for the data table, above, was downloaded from You can download temperature and precipitation data for cities all around the world from this site. The climatograph, shown in the hidden above, was downloaded from

Checking In

  1. In general, what would you say about the typical weather in Vermont in winter, based on this climatograph?
    The months of December, January, and February are very cold in Burlington, VT. It is usually below freezing (32˚F or 0˚C) for the entire time.
  2. Use the graph or table to answer: What is the range of average temperatures over a year?
    The range of average temperatures over a year is 51.1 degrees F. To calculate the range, subtract the lowest number from the highest number.

How does weather compare to climate?

However, as you know, long-term averages and ranges, only tell you general information about the weather story, so in the next section you will investigate daily temperature data from a single year (2012) and compare climate normals normal: in climate terminology "normal" is based on a 30-year average of a condition, such as temperature, rainfall, or local wind patterns. with daily observed weather.

Learn more about how climate and weather compare by viewing the following interactive. On each slide, read the introductory text and then click the draw graph button to see more details about the graph. Move from slide to slide, by clicking the forward or back arrows. When you have finished viewing the slide show, answer the Checking In questions below.

This content is available in flash format only

To view this interactive on an iPad, use this link to download/open the free TERC EarthLabs App.

Checking In

    1. What is the approximate average high temperature (in degrees F), for February 15th in Burlington, Vermont?
    2. Do the daily observed temperatures stay within the range of normal temperatures? (i.e. the green band)
    3. Which months have the most extreme (coldest) lows?

  1. On the National Weather Service (NWS) weekly weather page for Burlington VT, click the city name on the middle-right; then, in the sidebar list on the left-hand side of the next page, scroll down the list and select Climate > Local.
  2. On the next page that opens, "Observed Weather Reports", click the Local Data / Records tab. A new page will open.
  3. On this new page titled "Unique Local Climate Data," look down the list for Climate Graphs. Click the "Monthly Temperature/Precipitation Graphs for 2000-present" link. You will see several graphs to view on this page. You can choose a city in the region and/or change the year. Note: if you are repeating these instructions for your local city, you will find this section varies by climate office; you may have to try a few links to get to your local data.
  4. To get a feeling for the normal high and low temperatures in the Burlington Area for a full year, use the pull-down menu to select the year 2010 and click go.
    1. On the weekly weather forecast page, click the city name, NWS Burlington, VT.

    2. On the left-hand sidebar of the page that opens, select the Climate > Local link.

    3. Select the get the Local Data / Records tab.

    4. Select the link for the "Monthly Temperature / Precipitation Graphs for 2000-present."

    5. Choose the Get Yearly Graph... for 2010 from the pull-down menu.

How does the weather vary on a single day in February?

In previous sections of this lab, you looked at long-term average weather patterns. In this section, you will get a sense of weather variability on a single day by looking at the weather for a single day over a time period of many years.
  1. To learn more about the daily weather Vermont, visit the Burlington, VT Weather History page. The page will show the weather for February 11, 2012.
  2. Review the data on this page. Find the min, max, and mean temperatures. Record them on a sheet of paper or in your science notebook. How do you think this year's temperatures compared to previous years?

    Checking In

    Based on the climatograph that you completed earlier in the lab, was the mean temperature on February 11, 2012 above, on, or below the average for the month?
    The mean temperature in Burlington VT, on February 11, 2012, was 18˚ F. The average temperature for the month of February is 19.2, so this day was slightly below the average for the month.
  3. Download a data table containing 30+ years of temperature data for Burlington, VT. This data was downloaded from the Weather Underground website. The data is linked below in two forms; choose whichever best suits your needs. To download the file, right-click (PC) or control-click (mac) and choose "Save Link As..." or a similar command.
    • PDF file (Acrobat (PDF) 14kB Mar31 12) for printing and calculating.
    • excel spreadsheet (Excel 20kB Mar31 12) for calculations, analysis, and graphing using the computer.
  4. Calculate the average of the mean, maximum, and minimum temperature data.
  5. Use a red colored pencil to highlight the days that were above the mean temperature. Use a blue colored pencil to highlight the days that were below the mean, or average.
  6. Review your results and answer the Stop and Think questions, below.

Stop and Think

  1. How much does the temperature data for one day in February change over the 30 year period? (i.e., What is the range of the data?)
  2. Two students were discussing weather and climate and shopping for back-to-school clothing. One stated that knowing the climate of a region helped her decide what clothing to buy, but that the weather forecast helped her to decide what to wear each day. Explain what she meant by this statement.

How we know what we know about Earth's air temperature

Scientists and other observers measure Earth's atmospheric temperature using a variety of instruments and methods; view this slide show to learn more about how air temperature is measured.
measuring temperature
Click to view

Optional Extension

Explore more hourly, daily, monthly, and seasonal climate normals on the NOAA interactive climate normals website.