Initial Publication Date: July 5, 2011

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 climograph, 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) 277kB Feb1 22). 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.

Checking In

  1. In general, what would you say about the typical weather in Vermont in winter, based on this climograph?
  2. Use the graph or table to answer: What is the range of average temperatures over a year?

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.

How is weather different than climate? from TERC & informmotion

*This video replaces a Flash interactive.

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?

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. Click the weekly option to see the averages along with the max and min.
  2. Review the data on this page. Find the min, max, and mean (average) 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 climograph that you completed earlier in the lab, was the mean temperature on February 11, 2012 above, on, or 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) 80kB Jan28 22) for printing and calculating.
    • excel spreadsheet (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 11kB Aug3 18) 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

8. 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?)

9. 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.

Additional climate and weather information can be found at Climate Explorer