Now, I’m biased of course since I got a MS degree in Atmospheric Science, but I feel like weather and climate is one of the biggest untapped wells of potential math problems. I think there are two reasons for that (aside from the “lack of expertise” / “it’s not in the textbook” angles):

1) The math involved is often considered “too advanced” and/or involves copious amounts of data.

2) There is significant amounts of uncertainty involved.

If I’m right, then this is troubling. It’s troubling that either of these aspects of weather and climate would make people shy away from using it as a tool to promote mathematical thinking in the classroom. Students should absolutely be exposed to and explore the concept of uncertainty. Ditto for data processing. I’d argue that the ability to assess uncertainty and/or large quantities of data is more relevant than the Pythagorean Theorem. Also, possibly more interesting. Consider this: would your students be more engaged by the good ol’ ladder problem, or by analyzing climate data or incoming cold-fronts?

Now, there are probably a myriad of other reasons that weather and climate, which is such an important part of all peoples’ lives that we constantly engage in it conversationally, isn’t studied in the classrooms (it’s difficult to visualize or represent fluid dynamics on an atmospheric scale; the field is still relatively new and there are many open questions still out there). But don’t let either of the above “problems” with weather and climate science make you shy away from utilizing it, if at all possible. I’d love to see a math curriculum incorporate scores of atmospheric science … or an atmospheric science curriculum incorporating scores of math concepts.

/steps off soap box

OK, sorry about that tangent. Here’s your artifact for today.


This plot of temperature and dewpoint.

And, I dunno, maybe this picture too.

Guiding Questions

  • When did it start snowing?
  • What is dewpoint? And what does it have to do with snow?
  • That temperature plot looks pretty pattern-like until 10/25, what kind of curve could be fitted to that plot?
  • Can we use some sort of pattern-deviation to determine when “weather will happen?”
  • So how much snow is that? Wait, how do they measure snowfall totals?

Suggested activities

  • Based on the data from 10/21 go 10/24, develop an equation that represents the “normal” or “expected” temperature.
  • Use Weather Underground to find your local temperature history for a given time to do the same.
  • By the way, that can also be done to determine monthly average temperatures and dewpoints. Create a sine wave for monthly averages?
  • Convert the dewpoint plot to relative humidity – the preferred measure of atmospheric moisture content by the public.
  • After deciding when the snow began falling, go back and check your solution with actual weather reporting. (group closest to actual time gets free sno-cones?)
  • Based on that photo, estimate how much snowfall was measured (hint: snowfall totals are measured according to the amount that’s left after it’s melted).

Honestly, when it comes to weather and climate in general, I’d be interested to hear what students are interested in. Is it climate change? Tornadoes? Blizzards? All of these are going to incorporate aspects of data collection and uncertainty. That’s probably a good thing.

4 thoughts on “Based on this plot, can you tell me when it started snowing? Or, can we fit a sine curve to it?

  1. I am one of those who is afraid of using weather in my math class mostly because I don’t know much about. Are there sites out there to make it easier to incorporate weather/climate into our classes?

    1. Hi Jesse, sorry this took so long to get back to. I’ve been on a sort of blogging hiatus until yesterday. Thanks for the comment & question.

      There are a couple quick and easy things any class could do regarding prediction and error. We had a daily/weekly weather prediction challenge. In which everyone predicted the high and low temperatures and precipitation. You were given a point (points are bad) for every degree and inch of precipitation you were off. To aid predictions, you can find some great weather maps here: . Tracking the movement of cold front, looking at the windspeed things like that.

      Two great data resources for temperature can be found a or Here’s a wolfram search for “average temperature fort collins,” then I switched it to “10 years” and you get a real nice harmonic response: “Average global temperature” is great too.

      A couple other potential resources:

      And my personal favorite (I’m biased, I volunteered for them once):

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