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Look Up! Observing Weather

Adapted with permission from The Weather Channel and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Weather is a very important part of everyday life. Every morning we look at the weather report to decide on what clothes to wear and how early we should leave for school or work. To get a better idea of how meteorologists (scientists who study weather) make weather predictions, students will begin their own weather journals and make rain gauges. Meteorologists use tools and techniques like these to understand climate, patterns of weather over large areas and long periods of time.

Grade Level: K-4

Safety
Glass jars may be used in place of plastic jars, but be careful that the glass jar is not over a hard surface. Only an adult should handle the hammer and nails. Wear sunscreen if outdoors for an extended period of time. Wear eye protection such as sunglasses when looking at the sky, and never look directly at the sun. If using a thermometer, only use an alcohol thermometer, never mercury. No flip-flops should be worn outside.

Materials

  • Pencils
  • Notebook with lined paper
  • Straight-sided plastic container, with a diameter of about 2 inches or less (such as an olive or peanut butter jar).
  • Coat hanger or wire bent to make a holding rack
  • Measuring spoons: 1 tablespoon (which equals 3 teaspoons) and ¼ teaspoon
  • Hammer and nails, or duct tape to secure the rack
  • Felt-tip marker
  • Container of at least a liter of water

Procedure

  1. Working in groups and using the notebook, record observations about clouds, temperature, atmospheric moisture, wind, and precipitation. An example could be: Wispy clouds high in the sky (cirrus clouds). Temperature feels between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (or measure degrees Celsius). Atmospheric moisture is low and there is no current precipitation. Mostly sunny with wind from the NW at 5 miles per hour.

  2. If desired, continue this weather journal for a week, a month, or a semester. At the end of the observations, note any weather patterns or irregularities. Perhaps there was a hurricane, or maybe it was unseasonably warm for that time of year. Try to explain these occurrences. What does the weather say about the climate?

  3. Rain gauges measure the amount of rainfall in cubic inches. So the first task is to make a scale for the container that shows how many cubic inches of water are in the container. One cubic inch of water is about 3 ¼ teaspoons (the same as one tablespoon and ¼ teaspoon), so pour 1 tablespoon and ¼ teaspoon of water into the container. Then, draw a short line at the level of the water. Looking closely, the top of the water will seem to be slightly curved and thickened. Draw your line so that it matches the bottom of the curved surface (which is called a meniscus). This line corresponds to a rainfall of an inch.

  4. Add another tablespoon and ¼ teaspoon of water to the container and draw another line. The second line corresponds to a rainfall of 2 inches.

  5. Repeat step 4 until there are at least five marks on the container. This will be enough for most rain events, but adding another line or two is a safe bet.

  6. Find a location to hang the rain gauge where there is nothing overhead (such as trees or a building roof) that could direct water into or away from the gauge. The edge of a fence far from buildings is often a good spot. Another possibility is to attach your rain gauge to a broomstick driven into the ground in an open area. Be sure to record rainfall soon after a rain event to avoid false readings caused by evaporation.

  7. Get outside and empty the gauge after each reading. Discuss: How much time must pass before you observe a pattern? What do you think are some other ways scientists directly study weather to understand climate?

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