Extreme Weather 101


Extreme Weather 101 for Educators

Image: Climate Change Connection

Throughout the last year it has been hard to miss the news reports, blogs and editorial commentary on the extreme weather events that have been sweeping the country. Tornadoes, flooding, snowstorms, above normal and below normal temperatures have caught the media and the nation’s attention. Looking for a reason, inevitably the question has risen, “is THIS climate change?” Furthermore as educators we are faced with the additional question, “What do we say?

A number of discussions and resources have arisen in response to both questions and they are linked to and summarized below. The bottom line? Linking a specific weather event to climate change is very difficult (although possible as described in a number of sources shared below), and tornadoes are especially tricky because there is still little known about how they even form. That said, most sources agree that these weather events “could signal the future,” “we ain’t seen nothing yet,” and finally:

“In short, our local weather-demons have dropped an important teaching moment on our doorsteps–in some cases with a mighty splash. We may not have reached the new normal yet, but we can probably see it from here. Asking if climate change caused our crazy weather this year misses a more focused and potentially important question: Is this something we should plan for over the long term?” (Stager, 6/11)


Teaching About Extreme Weather

As described by Stager above, extreme weather events present an excellent teachable moment to delve deeper into how weather works, the distinction between weather and climate, and how models work. Inevitably it also presents the opportunity to discuss what adaptation means, if these extreme weather events become more frequent, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and many other credible sources have predicted.

A suggested progression of teaching and learning about extreme weather might begin with a discussion and distinction between weather and climate, moving into a discussion of the impacts of climate change and concluding with activities related to adaptation and climate change solutions. There are links provided below to a number of specific lessons and locations that introduce students to a number of the above themes. Following the activities there are readings, videos and podcasts that could be used to complement activities and instigate discussion.

Supporting Lessons

Weather and Climate

Changes Close to Home (Grades 6-8)
This activity develops student understanding of the relationship of weather and climate.

Climographs: Temperature, Precipitation, and the Human Condition (Grades 6-12)
Students learn how to read, analyze, and construct climographs using climate data, and practice matching climographs to various locations.

Learning Polar Oceanography: Ocean Currents and Climate Connections (Grades 9-12)
This series of activities introduce students to polar oceanography, polar climate and how events that occur in oceans thousands of kilometers away affect them and the mid-latitudes using maps, images, lab experiments and online data tools.

Investigating El Nino using real data (Grades 6-12)
This is a sequence of 5 classroom activities focusing on the El Nino climate variability.

National Wildlife Federation: Climate Change and Weather FAQ and Activities

For more activities, lessons and full units on climate change science and solutions please visit:

CLEAN: Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network
The CLEAN project, a part of the National Science Digital Library, provides a reviewed collection of resources coupled with the tools to enable an online community to share and discuss teaching about climate and energy science. http://cleanet.org/

Climate Generation
Climate Generation’s K-12 interdisciplinary climate change education program includes lesson plans that are experiential in nature, tied to national standards, and available free for download.

ICCEE: Inspiring Climate Change Education Excellence
An online professional development short course on climate, climate change and how to teach about it.


Extreme Heat: Climate WisconsinExtreme Heat: Climate Wisconsin
This video does an excellent job of showing how extreme heat impacts urban communities.
Adapting to New Normals: The Heat’s OnAdapting to New Normals: The Heat’s On
This video highlights the release of the new climate normal’s, extreme heat and how communities are adapting.
ClimateCenter: Summer Forecast 2011ClimateCenter: Summer Forecast 2011
The connection between climate and the summer 2011 forecast is dicussed.
ClimateCenter: The New NormalsClimateCenter: The New Normals
Nice overview of how “normal” average temperature is determined and what the “new normals” tell us.
Report links extreme weather to global warmingReport links extreme weather to global warming
This video gives a nice overview of the link between extreme weather and climate change in Minnesota, as well as a discussion of solutions and a brief intro of how this issue has been politicized.
Mark Seely - WSF Presentation VideoWeather and Climate
Climatologist Dr. Mark Seeley discusses the distinction between weather and climate. Dowload the pdf of his presentation and listen to the video while he goes through the slides.
[Presentation PDF / Presentation Video]


Extreme Weather May Be The New Normal: NPR’s Here and Now

Great 13 minute podcast
From floods to blizzards to wildfires, droughts and tornadoes, 2011 has seen some of the most extreme weather in decades. What’s fueling Mother Nature’s fury and can climate change alone explain the reason we are seeing more devastating and destructive storms?

Extreme Weather and Climate Science
Climate scientist, Kevin Trenberth discusses the connection between extreme weather and climate change.


Extreme Weather Events Map – (1995-2011)
A map of the United States that shows notable extreme weather events around the country betweem 1995-2011.

Supporting Reading and Websites

Extreme Weather and Climate Change: In-Depth Reports
This Scientific American three part series explore the connections between extreme weather and climate change.

Extreme Weather: Pew Center on Global Climate Change
The resources provided here are excellent, including an interactive map of extreme weather events in the United States.

Extreme Weather: Climate Central
A collection of blogs and articles related to extreme weather.

Going to extremes: Real Climate Blog
This summary of recent articles in Nature on whether we can attribute specific weather events to climate change was the best I came across.

Missouri weather whips up media discussion of climate change and extreme weather: Joseph Romm for grist
Excellent overview of responses to the big question.

The “new normal” weather
Nice article one how this scientist has decided to answer the question and why it is important.

Are You Ready for More?
Comprehensive article on the consequences of inaction on climate change at the policy level as it relates to extreme weather.

Another Day, Another Deadly Tornado Strikes the US
Nice in depth explanation of how tornadoes and other extreme weather are linked to climate change and La Nina, including some videos

Yale 360Forum: Is Extreme Weather Linked to Global Warming?
Eight climate scientists answer this very question.

Adaptation: EPA
Nice EPA summary of possible adaptation measures for climate change.

NOAA’s National Weather Service taking action to build a ‘Weather-ready’ nation
Nice summary of the impact of recent weather events and the importance of preparing for more.

Extreme Weather Impacts Migratory Birds

States of Change: Climate Central
States of Change, is a growing and evolving collection of stories, research, and data about changes in climate happening at a local level.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. In November 2011 they will release a special report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation.


This page made possible due to support from the National Education Association.


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