Initial Publication Date: September 7, 2012 | Reviewed: July 11, 2017

Comparing Climate Records from Multiple Locations

This activity is part of the community collection of teaching materials on climate and energy topics.

These materials were submitted by faculty as part of the CLEAN Climate Workshop, held in May, 2012 and are not yet part of the CLEAN collection of reviewed resources.
Contributed by: Beth Christensen, Adelphi University
Melissa Godek, SUNY Oneonta
Pamela Gore, Georgia Perimeter College
Benjamin Laabs, SUNY Geneseo

Topic: climate records, climate variability and controls, global climates
Course Type: Introductory-Level College Course


This activity applies to Teaching Principle 2: Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth System. It specifically addresses Concept 2A: Earth's climate is influenced by interactions involving the sun, ocean, atmosphere, clouds, ice, land, and life. Climate varies by region as a result of local differences in these interactions. It is anticipated that the activity will take two 50 - 75 minute class periods with additional time for follow-up assessment.

Students use web resources to

  1. identify climate patterns and distributions and
  2. synthesize the information to develop an understanding of the global variation.

Students develop tables of temperature and precipitation averages and also identify and describe an extreme weather event. This exercise is an inquiry-style lesson and can easily be adapted for use in or out of the classroom.

Note: Prior to this assignment, students should receive some information on how to sample climate data from the GLOBE or NASA sets, or how to find quality online resources about climate and climate variability. This could be done as a walk-through, in-class tutorial of government/ university research centers and SERC sites, comparing the information in each to less reliable sources such as Wikipedia.

Annual Temperature Anomalies for Year 2011
Map of Annual Temperature Anomalies for Year 2011. Numbers are surface air temperature anomalies in oC, relative to the 1951-1980 base period. Image credit: NASA. Details


After completing the activities below, students should be able to do the following:

  • EXPLAIN the difference between weather and climate
  • DESCRIBE factors that lead to regional climate distinctions
  • EXPLAIN the spatial distribution of precipitation patterns on Earth
  • EXPLAIN the spatial distribution of temperature patterns on Earth
  • EXPLAIN why the seasonal range of temperature varies on Earth
  • COMPARE and CONTRAST regional climate extremes
  • CLASSIFY extreme weather events as normal or anomalous climate events


Prior to Activity: Assessment can be performed in the form of a series of clicker questions so that students understand the fundamental differences between weather and climate. In addition, this assessment can include information on satellites and how satellite data is acquired.

During & After the Activity:
  1. Formative Assessment Approach: 2-step process:
    • The instructor can walk around the room to meet with different groups while they are in the early phases of conducting this in-class activity. Questions can be posed to the groups for further analysis and individuals can be selected to summarize group findings up to that point. Examples of instructor question topics: the extreme weather event students find, how table information is found, the highest and lowest temperature and precipitation values identified,regional distinctions, the factors that control climate variability.
    • The instructor can then evaluate the content of student discussions after the posters have been arranged on the board and they begin to answer questions. Instructor should listen to see that groups are identifying key spatial distinctions and pose further questions to groups that are not making relevant connections between climate patterns and controls.
  2. Summative Assessment Approach: 3-step process:
    • The instructor can evaluate group performance based on grading the student answers to questions in the activity's exercise. This can be performed as a paper-based homework assignment or for completion in class with the poster discussions. Alternatively, these questions could be answered as a group in an online course-management system after discussion and in-class work.
    • The instructor can pass out a blank table to students after they have completed the entire 2-day exercise. This table should be filled out individually by students as a paper-based or online homework assignment. The goal should be to identify the major climate controls and the major climate differences across the planet. This assessment should reinforce the idea that students must have the information obtained in this exercise as individuals (vs. relying on others in the group to convey the information learned). An alternative to providing this as a homework this could be performed as an in-class clicker assignment with options for table entries provided by the instructor as choices (i.e., A, B, C, D, etc.).
  • The instructor can give students a set of temperature, precipitation, extreme weather, and possibly additional climate information and ask them to predict the general geographic location of where the data were collected.
  • The instructor can bring in a recent extreme weather event and ask the students to decide if it's normal or anomalous for the climatic region.
  • Follow up questions on climate variability and controls can be further emphasized after the activity is completed as a series of questions in a mid semester exam or quiz (online or in-class). An example exam/quiz question if not used earlier: The instructor gives students a set of temperature, precipitation, extreme weather and possibly additional climate information and asks students to predict the general geographic location of where the data were collected.

Building Blocks:

  1. Students will refer to the GLOBE Compilation or NASA Earth Observatory satellite data 2005-2012 to view the climate data available for their area of interest.
  2. Then, students will follow the instructions of the "Climate Around the World" exercise (modified from this CLEAN resource of the same name by C. Shellito; see below) to assemble a set of climate data for their area. Data can be entered into a MS Excel spreadsheet Climate Records MS Excel spreadsheet (Excel 33kB May14 12) or Climate data table (Excel 31kB May15 12), which will aid in computing annual averages and can be expanded to include multiple locations of interest.

Assemble the Components:

satellite npoess noaa
Artist's conception of a satellite, monitoring Earth's weather, oceans, atmosphere, and land. Image credit: NOAA. Details

Project Objectives: Day 1 Meeting

  1. Your group has been assigned a continent, island, or region of islands. Each person in your group will choose a country. If you have a very large country, you may need to choose a specific city or region within this country. CONTINENTS AND REGIONS THAT HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED:

    • North America (U.S. & Canada – pick at least one east coast and one west coast location)
    • Central America
    • South America
    • Europe
    • Asia
    • Africa
    • Oceana (south Pacific islands)
    • Australia
    • Antarctica
    Do some online research about the climate in the geographic area you have selected. Can you figure out what it is about the geography, topography, or location of this area that makes the climate of this region what it is?
  2. Sample the GLOBE data set from 1987 or 2007 or NASA Earth Observatory satellite data 2005-2012 for climate data from your geographic area.
  3. Use the MS Excel spreadsheet (Excel 2007 (.xlsx) 12kB May16 12) to make a table that includes monthly averages of the following:
    • Solar Radiation (or Net Radiation)
    • Temperature (or Land Surface Temperature) - Indicate temperatures as both degrees C and degrees F.
    • Cloud cover (or Cloud Fraction)
    • Precipitation (or Total Rainfall)
    • Soil moisture
    • Vegetation cover
    • Annual averages of each of these. - Also note the season or months in which most of the precipitation occurs.
    • Wintertime averages of each of these (average of Dec, Jan, Feb OR Jun, Jul, Aug - depending on hemisphere).
    • Summertime averages of each of these (average of Jun, Jul, Aug OR Dec, Jan, Feb- depending on hemisphere).
  4. View the National Geographic Video that describes the difference between weather and climate.
    • In your own words, define weather and climate, noting the key difference between the two.
    • Does the data you have collected describe weather or climate? Explain your answer.
  5. Refer to Meteorology: Understanding the Atmosphere ( This site may be offline. ) (from Ackerman and Knox, University of Wisconsin) that describes the traditional Bergeron air mass classification.
    Note to Instructor: Here, advanced courses (or those that emphasize an atmospheric component) can have students compare the Bergeron classification system to a more modern air mass scheme (;jsessionid=E497CF65F4DE1951A5C0CBE0FCABF911.d04t02?v=1&t=hkbhnynm&s=1d0a4b608e5de5b40d6e3307a03c7f444719cbf, link down).

    • Consider the annual and seasonal averages of temperature and precipitation. Based on these mean conditions, what type(s) of air masses are prevalent in your geographic area?

  6. that makes daily air data available all across the country since ~1950 (from Sheridan, Kent State University).
  7. Research online to find information about at least ONE extreme weather event in your geographic area. This may be a very high or very low temperature, flood, severe storm, tornado, hurricane, blizzard, drought, etc.
    • Provide a brief description of the weather event, along with when and where it occurred.
    • Also provide a list of websites you used to find your information.
    You might begin your search with the following websites:

    You are welcome to use any information you can find (some locations may be more difficult to research than others). Be careful with the quality of sites referenced! BE READY TO SHARE THE INFORMATION YOU'VE COLLECTED THE NEXT TIME WE MEET!

    Project Objectives: Day 2 Meeting
  8. Now, as a group, complete the Climate Around the World In-Class Exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 30kB May16 12).
  9. Share your findings with the other student groups (including tables, extreme weather event and the in-class exercise questions) by making a presentation to the class about your poster. Be sure to mention the factors that influence the climate in different regions and what might distinguish normal climate variability from anomalous weather events (i.e., how much annual precipitation is considered 'normal' at this location and what kind of precipitation event would be outside of that range, as anomalous?).


This activity incorporates the following CLEAN climate resources: