Is Grandpa Right, Were Winters Colder When He Was A Boy?

Image of Midwest Blizzard in 1950

Image courtesy NOAA

To use historic weather information and compare with current data to determine if there is significant temperature change
Grade Level: 6 – 8
Estimated Time for Completing Activity: 50 minutes
Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will access NOAA and NASA climate data from Internet resources.
  • Students will determine changes in average temperatures, precipitation and cloud cover over time from data.
  • Students will relate global changes to local changes.
  • Computer with Internet Access
  • Printer (optional)
National Standards:
  • Geography: Environment and Society
  • Math: Data Analysis and Probability
  • Science Content: A Science as Inquiry
  • Science Content: D Earth and Space Science
  • Science Content: F Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Virginia Standards of Learning:
  • PS.1: The student will plan and conduct investigations in which b) length, mass, volume, density, temperature, weight, and force are accurately measured and reported using metric units (SI-International System of Units); h) data tables showing the independent and dependent variables, derived quantities, and the number of trials are constructed and interpreted; i)data tables for descriptive statistics showing specific measures of central tendency, the range of the data set, and the number of repeated trials are constructed and interpreted; j) frequency distributions, scattergrams, line plots, and histograms are constructed and interpreted; and k) valid conclusions are made after analyzing data.
  • PS.7: The student will investigate and understand temperature scales, heat, and heat transfer. Key concepts include Celsius and Kelvin temperature scales and absolute zero.
  • Sci6.1: The student will plan and conduct investigations in which c) precise and approximate measurements are recorded; h) data are collected, recorded, analyzed, and reported using appropriate metric measurements; and i) data are
    organized and communicated through graphical representation (graphs, charts, and diagrams).
  • Sci6.6: The student will investigate and understand the properties of air and the structure and dynamics of the Earth’s atmosphere.
Lesson Links:

Students often hear that winters were colder or had more snow in the past. This activity will help them to determine if this is a true or accurate statement for their location.


Part I: Review the NOAA Paleoclimatology website (lesson link) to learn about weather events and climate trends over the past 100 years. Also, click the link on that page called Climate History. Discuss as a class the trends shown on the NOAA graphs of carbon dioxide, cloud cover and precipitation.

Part II: Locate your school latitude and longitude by using Google Earth or by another method. Use the Live Access Server (lesson link) to create graphs of the same parameters for your location.

1. Click on the Live Access Server link.
2. If you are not automatically prompted with parameter choices click on ‘Choose Data Set’ in the upper left hand corner of the screen then, click on Atmosphere, then Atmospheric Temperature, then the radio button for Monthly Near-Surface Air Temperature (ISCCP).
3. Under the Line Plots options to the left of the screen, Select ‘Time Series’ and then click on the radio button at the top of the page next to ‘Update Plot’ to see the changes to your plot as you edit your options.
4. Enter your coordinates in the text boxes under the map
5. Select the full time range available.
6. Save or print your graph.
7. Repeat steps 2-6 except choose Atmosphere, Clouds, Cloud Coverage, Monthly Cloud Coverage (ISCCP).
8. Repeat steps 2-6, except choose Atmosphere, Precipitation, Monthly Precipitation (GCPC).
Note: You should now have a total of three line plots.


1. What trends can you determine from your graphs of temperature, precipitation and cloud cover where you live?

2. Is it an accurate statement that winters were colder in the past?

3. What are some possible reasons for the changes?

4. Were there notable short-term changes that may have been caused by geophysical events such as a large volcanic eruption?


1. Examine historical climate data for your area to see if there has been a change in summer or winter temperatures over the past century.

2. Read historical fiction or non-fiction accounts of weather-related events (ex. The Long Winter, Ingalls)

Lesson plan contributed by Rita Crocker, Holden, Missouri

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