INVESTIGATION: Weather Extremes

Are Extreme Weather Events Increasing?

Over 15 years ago, in 1995, Chicago experienced a four-day heat wave with daytime temperatures ranging from 37°C (98°F) to 41°C (106°F). Nighttime temperatures were also  unusually warm due to the high humidity. More than 700 people died from heat-related causes during this time. So are heat waves and other extreme weather events increasing? Recently, you have probably noticed more extreme weather-related events in the newsfrom heat waves to droughts or floods or storms. In late June of 2012, more than 2000 record temperatures were recorded across the U.S., and a widespread, long-lived windstorm, known as a “derecho,” moved from Illinois to Virginia leaving massive devastation. “Derecho” is Spanish for straight and first described back in 1888 when a derecho crossed Iowa. Meanwhile 7 major wildfires, fueled by extreme heat and drought, were burning in Colorado.

In this investigation, you will learn how to analyze temperature data so that you can track extreme weather. First, you will obtain temperature data and use Excel to graph and compare some recent heat waves. You will then locate and label several extreme weather-related events that have occurred throughout the world over the past decade. Finally, you will learn to use the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) to identify and analyze the most recent weather-related events and climate anomalies.

Climate Central is a non-profit journalism and research organization that focuses on helping the public understand climate change and make informed decisions. Read the state-by-state analysis extreme weather for 2011 and view the slide show of images.

What were the top ten states “hit the hardest” by extreme weather in 2011? Which state was most affected? Find a news story about a recent extreme weather event.