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ClimateCenter: The New Normals

Climate Central

In this video clip, Climate Central’s Dr. Heidi Cullen explains that what we’ve known as “normals” for our climate, during the past decade, will very likely change soon. The new climate normal will provide key information for decisions we make in the future, ranging from what we plant, to what we pay for energy, and even to where we take a vacation.

Video length: 2:03 minutes.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate is not the same thing as weather. Weather is the minute-by-minute variable condition of the atmosphere on a local scale. Climate is a conceptual description of an area’s average weather conditions and the extent to which those conditions vary over long time intervals.
About Teaching Principle 4
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Climate change is a significant and persistent change in an area’s average climate conditions or their extremes. Seasonal variations and multi-year cycles (for example, the El Niño Southern Oscillation) that produce warm, cool, wet, or dry periods across different regions are a natural part of climate variability. They do not represent climate change.
About Teaching Principle 4
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Scientific observations indicate that global climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future. The magnitude and direction of this change is not the same at all locations on Earth.
About Teaching Principle 4
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Our understanding of climate differs in important ways from our understanding of weather. Climate scientists’ ability to predict climate patterns months, years, or decades into the future is constrained by different limitations than those faced by meteorologists in forecasting weather days to weeks into the future.
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Benchmarks for Science Literacy
Learn more about the Benchmarks

The earth has a variety of climates, defined by average temperature, precipitation, humidity, air pressure, and wind, over time in a particular place.
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The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming.
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Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

About the Science

  • This short video describes the development of new climate normals, i.e. 30-year averages for weather data, by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC). Every decade, the NCDC provides these averages for 10,000 regions in the US. The shift from averages based on 1970-2000 data to ones based on 1980-2010 data means that the cooler decade of the 1970s will be replaced by a warmer one of the 2000s. This has important implications for energy demand, forecasts, agricultural planting strategies, daily weather forecasts, etc.
  • This short video makes it clear how weather data, esp. temperature and precipitation data, becomes climate data through 30-year averages.
  • Comments from expert scientist: This resource provides a very good general description of climate normals and why they change every year. The industries used to illustrate the uses of climate normals were appropriate and expected. It does not include details about what goes into a climate normal calculation, including corrections for station moves, instrument changes and changes in the time of observation.

About the Pedagogy

  • Starts with a discussion of 2011 as the current year, which was a very unusual winter in terms of snowfall and may seem like an aberration when compared with other recent winters.
  • Rapid-fire delivery of content at a high level and with information with which many students may not be familiar.
  • Students are encouraged to think about the broad implications of climate change as they see how the updates of the new climate normals affect many practical day-to-day forecasts.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The video is available online and as a flash video download. Neither may be suitable for high-resolution projection.

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