Designer Resource: Finding Long-Term Climate Data in the US Using NOAA
Monthly climate normals graph
Having accurate climatic data is an important part of designing a resilient and productive ecological system capable of diverse yields from year to year. This is especially true as we live through the uncertainty of climate change.
For those living in the US, a great resource for finding long-term tabulated and graphical climate data is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
NOAA recently upgraded their NOWData software, making it one of the easiest to use free tools for the American Permaculturist looking for climate data for site assessments.
To navigate to the NOWData interface go to http://www.NOAA.gov and look on the side-bar for the "forecast" area. Put in your city and state, or just your zip code.
That will bring you to the standard 7-day forecast page (which has loads of features of its own).
Scroll down to the bottom and you’ll see a link to additional forecast information.
Click on “Climate Information”.
That will take you to an interface for the NOWData database.
The great thing about this interface is that it’s automatically set up for the zip-code you entered.
NOAA NOW data
In the case of my example, it is automatically going to read data from the Pendleton, OR weather station.
You can fine tune the particular weather station that data is being read from by clicking on the another station from the list, or by clicking the map to see a geographical display of the stations.
NOAA weather station map
Once your weather station choice is optimized you can begin viewing data.
Types of climate data
Daily data for a month — provides the daily max., min. and average temperature (degrees F),
as well as the average temperature departure from normal, heating and cooling degree days,
precipitation, snowfall and snow depth in inches are also included for the month of your
choosing. Basic monthly summary statistics are also provided. Click for larger view.
This is useful when wanting to see the latest month at a glance, and how it panned out in comparison to the average month. Was it hotter, cooler, wetter or drier than average? Was the snowpack denser this last January than in the January 10 or 50 years ago?
If you live in a place which has quick changes between seasons, the monthly data is useful to see how those differ from year to year.
Daily almanac — provides temperature, precipitation, snowfall, snow depth and degree day
(base 65) data for the day of your choosing.
The almanac also provides the month-to-date and year-to-date averages, normals and period-of-record extreme values for the data listed above.
You can also directly compare data from another year of your choosing.
I’ve found it useful to look at data from key days (such as equinox’, solstice and average frost-free days) from year to year to get a feel for the variability of the growing season.
Monthly summarized data — calculates averages, totals, daily extremes or frequencies for the
selected variable for each month of the year for the selected range of years. Annual average
temperatures are taken from the average of the twelve monthly values.
I find this to be most helpful, to look at the accumulated precipitation of each month through a range of years. This data displays in a table format so the exact numbers are available, as opposed to a graph which gives you less precise data.
For extremes points (such as exceptionally hot or cold days), the year of occurrence is also provided.
This is useful if you have specific parameters you want to parse out, such as all the days that max temps were over 100 degrees F.
Daily/monthly normals — daily and monthly official National Climate Data Center
normals for the 1981-2010 period.
Not as accurate as other data sets, but gives a general picture of climate trends, patterns or arcs that fit within this ~30 year period. Displays in a nice graph too.
Climatology for a day — provides daily temperature, precipitation, snowfall and snow depth
for a specific day over a range of years. Also includes statistics summarizing these values
over the period specified.
Similar to the Daily Almanac, but is easier to see data over a span of years. However there are fewer parameters covered.
First/last days — determines annual first and last dates of event occurrences for
the specified range of years.
Useful for finding the last spring and first fall freezes, first and last significant snow falls, or when the high temperatures reach of a certain point.
Temperature graphs — a plot of daily max/min temperatures for the period specified, along
with the normal temperature range and daily all-time records.
Very easy to read graph for this important information.
Accumulation graphs — you can see how regular the rainfall has been over the 60 years
Displays accumulated precipitation, snowfall or degree days from a designated start and end date. For periods of a year or less, the average, highest and lowest years that have no more than one day missing are also plotted.
For periods of more than 1 year, accumulations can be reset on a given date each year.
This is a good resource to visually display when, and in what form, precipitation has occurred. giving clues as to the long term precipitation regime.