Los Angeles Climatograph

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Students will be able to conduct web research and develop a climatograph of their local climate including temperature and precipitation.

Big Idea

Although weather fluctuates from day to day, long term trends in climate are stable and predictable. However, global climate change can disrupt local long term trends.


In this lesson, students will research and gather data about the climate of their city to make a climatograph.

A climatograph shows monthly averages of temperature and precipitation plotted on the same plane and allows an observer to see seasonal patterns of climatic variation for a particular area.  Although biomes exist in different areas, similar biomes will have similarly shaped climatographs that act like a "fingerprint" of the particular biome.  For example, Even though temperate deciduous forests and chaparral have seasonal variations in climate, their climatographs will appear much different because of the relatively wide temperature variations in the temperate deciduous forest and the wet and dry seasons of the chaparral.
Once students have completed their climatograph based on data collected from an online database, they will analyze it to see if it matches the climatograph of the biome of their region according to the map they made in the Biome Coloring Map lesson.

Please note: My students live in Los Angeles, so they're understandably familiar with the climate, landscape and community of organisms living there.  Unless your class really wants to explore the climate of LA, it might make more sense to adapt this lesson to your locale.  To do so, simply download the activity worksheet Word document and modify it by replacing every mention of "Los Angeles" with "Topeka", "Sarasota", "Juneau", or wherever you happen to live. 


Connection to Standards:

In this lesson, students will conduct short web research to answer a question, and employ critical thinking and quantitative reasoning to make a claim supported by evidence.

Warm Up: What's our climate like?

30 minutes

To begin this lesson, I have a student volunteer distribute the activity worksheet.  On the board in front of the class, I have three sections of the board divided.  These sections are labeled, "Climate", "Landscape", and "Community"



As a class, we answer the first question from the worksheet, "How would you describe the climate of Los Angeles?"  I ask students to spend 3 minutes answering the question silently, then I have students share out their responses as I write them under the "climate" heading on the whiteboard. 

Answers my students came up with included, "Hot and dry", "Foggy in the morning in summer", "cold in winter" (being from Chicago originally, I always laugh that my students consider 50 to 60 degrees "cold" weather), "there's snow in the mountains", "it's not as hot by the beach", etc.



We then repeat this step with the next question, "How would you describe the landscape in and around Los Angeles?".  In my class, answers included "there are/are not a lot of trees", "there are mountains", "it's flat in some areas and hilly in others", "Downtown is nothing but roads and buildings", "there are cliffs near the ocean", "the river is dry", etc.



I finally repeat the process one more time with the third question, "What are some plants and animals that live in and around Los Angeles?"  Answers included, "snakes", "pigeons", "hawks", "dogs", "seagulls", "palm trees", "birds of paradise", "cacti", "squirrels", "coyotes", etc.


The point of this warm up is to have the whole class thinking about the area we live in as a biome, i.e. the biotic and abiotic characteristics of our ecosystem.  


After we have done this collectively, I ask students to take out the maps we made for the Biome Coloring Map lesson and answer the questions concerning the climatic zone and biome that Los Angeles is located within.  After about 3 minutes, I ask students to volunteer their answers to these questions and most share that Los Angeles is in the North Temperate Zone and the Chaparral biome.

I then direct them to the chapter in their textbook where they have short descriptions of each biome and representative climatographs of each.  I then ask students to make a hypothesis about which biome a climatograph of Los Angeles would most closely resemble.  This question is a great way to check for general understanding, since you definitely have a problem if students guess "Tropical Rainforest" or "Tundra" after having just heard that LA is in a chaparral region of the North Temperate Zone.  The most obvious answer is "Chaparral", but the reason I include this question is for students to consider if our recent drought may have made our climate more similar to a Desert.  See this reflection for an assessment of how well this worked out.

After we have finished this warm up and made our hypothesis, students are ready to begin collecting the data they'll need to make a climatograph.

Independent Practice: Making a climatograph

60 minutes

Once we have finished the warm up, I ask students to pair with a partner.  Even though each student will complete their own climatograph individually, I have them partner up to share limited computers and colored pencils.  I ask for partners to decide on one partner to obtain a laptop and set it up and for the other partner to pick up a box of colored pencils.

I then explain that while both students in a group will be making a climatograph of Los Angeles, they will not be using the same data.  I explain that one partner will be using "normal" data averaged from the years of 1980-2010 and that the other partner will just be using data from the previous year (2014 as of this writing).  I counted the students off as 1 and 2, but if you prefer, you can have students decide which partner will use normal data and which partner will use single year data.

Once which partner is working with which data set has been determined, I ask students to navigate to the U.S. Climate Data website and show them how they can search for a city and then display climate information for that city.  I select San Diego and show them how they can select the "history" tab, and then see the single year data compared to the normal data on the right side of the page.  I then explain that as they cycle through the months, both partners can collect the data to fill in the table on their worksheet.

One thing I point out is that they need to make sure that they have set up the site to display data in metric units (Temperature in Celsius degrees and Precipitation in millimeters).  If they use Fahrenheit and inches, they will not be able to compare their climatographs to those in the textbook that use metric units.

I then ask students if they have any questions, addressing those as necessary, and then allow them about 10 minutes to collect the data for their tables.  During this time I walk around to double check two things:

  • That students are indeed collecting data in metric units
  • That the two partners are collecting different data (1981-2010 or 2014)

Once most groups have collected their data and completed their tables, I go over the instructions for actually making the climatograph.  First, I let them know that climatographs essentially consist of two separate graphs in the same plane.  One graph covers temperature, while the other covers precipitation.

I let them know that the x-axis will be divided according to the months of the year, but that the left side of the y-axis will cover temperature while the right side of the y-axis will cover precipitation.

I ask students to look at their textbooks and see if they can determine the pattern of scale for temperature and precipitation.  If no student observes the pattern on their own, I point out that the instructions on the worksheet call for both scales to begin at zero, but every 10 degrees of temperature correspond with 20 millimeters of precipitation.  I explain that this scale is arbitrary, but that it allows for better analysis of the climatograph because it more clearly shows wet and dry conditions.


I then ask students to set up their graphs and I walk around checking to make sure they are setting up their y-axis temperature and precipitation scales and the x-axis months properly.

I then ask,

  • "What color will you use to plot temperature data?", A: Red


  • "What color will you use to plot precipitation data?", A: Blue

Finally, I ask,

  • "How will you know which areas of your climatograph to shade light blue?", A: when precipitation exceeds temperature. I then explain that light blue represents moist conditions.
  • "How will you know which areas of your climatograph to shade orange?", A: when temperature exceeds precipitation. I then explain that orange represents dry conditions.


Once any further general questions have been answered, students work on their climatographs as I go around the room checking their progress and addressing any specific issues they may have.

Wrap Up

15 minutes

After individual students have completed their climatographs, they answer the questions at the end of the worksheet.

Questions 1 and 2 can be answered independently, but question 3 requires that a student compares and contrasts their climatograph with that of their partner. 

After students have finished these questions, we have a short discussion and I ask students to share their conclusions as a group.


The most common observation in my class was that, although Los Angeles' climate still hews to a chaparral rather than a desert pattern, the year 2014 was much, much drier than normal.  Data that they cited to support their claim was that in 2014, there were several months where the precipitation line "bottomed out" and there was no precipitation at all (we were and sadly still are in the midst of a horrible drought).  Students pointed out that even in the dry season, the normal data shows that there was usually at least some precipitation. 

Depending on your locale, it may be very telling to compare the average historical data with more recent years to assess the impact of climate change in your area.