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Atmosphere, Biosphere, Climate, Hydrosphere, Weather



Precipitation: The Dry Gets Drier?

Water woes in 2011! Farmers across Texas were trying to cope with drought, whether it is cotton, soybeans, hay or livestock, drought had them on the ropes. Meanwhile, farmers in the Midwest were shaking their heads and asking if it would ever stop raining. The rain was swelling streams, tributaries and rivers as farmers' machinery sat idle. The Red, Missouri and Lower Mississippi Rivers experienced record flooding as the Midwest water headed south. Weather Underground cites spring 2011 as the most extreme for wet and dry extremes for over 100 years.

Events appear to be taking place in accordance with forecasts in the 2007 IPCC report. With increasing greenhouse gas levels, models project increasing evaporation and precipitation around the globe. Not all regions can expect increased precipitation, however, only those in the high latitude regions can expect more. Subtropical areas are projected to have less precipitation during the 21st Century. Areas of drought can expect increased drying and higher temperatures. Some areas, such as the Eastern United States, have experienced intense precipitation events.

The United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) projects these changes to water resources:

    • Climate change has already altered, and will continue to alter, the water cycle, affecting where, when, and how much water is available for all uses.
    • Floods and droughts are likely to become more common and more intense as regional and seasonal precipitation patterns change, and rainfall becomes more concentrated into heavy events (with longer, hotter dry periods in between).
    • Precipitation and runoff are likely to increase in the Northeast and Midwest in winter and spring, and decrease in the West, especially the Southwest, in spring and summer.
    • In areas where snowpack dominates, the timing of runoff will continue to shift to earlier in the spring and flows will be lower in late summer.
    • Surface water quality and groundwater quantity will be affected by a changing climate.
    • Climate change will place additional burdens on already stressed water systems.
    • The past century is no longer a reasonable guide to the future for water management.
Important questions might be, what can we do about it? The USGCRP lists two actions we can take to reduce the impact of this scenario: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation means to slow or stop the human-induced contributions to climate change; adaptation refers to steps people would take to live with the changes taking place.



On August 1, 2011the National Weather Service (NWS) will release new climate predictions for the country. For example, Arizona will be cited as hotter and dryer. As climate change takes place, new climate patterns could potentially cause unexpected consequences due to this variability. As an adjunct to the National Weather Service climate predictions, you have been asked to detail the impacts to your region. You have also been asked to suggest appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies should the changes look extraordinary. Your Earth system analysis of the NWS' predictions will be useful in helping the country deal with anticipated climate related events.


Dryer and dryer is a phrase that may describe the Texas drought. One can look at recent national precipitation maps to see that Texas and parts of other states are experiencing a severe drought. In 1996 the Texas Legislature passed the Weather Modification Act, which allows cloud seeding. Now the state weather board has asked your group for assistance. They are interested in both your Earth system analysis of the weather or climatic conditions in operation over the state as well as your best estimate as to whether this is a permanent situation or one that will soon pass. They are questioning the impact of La Nina, Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation variables to include temperature and precipitation variability. Most important, they want to know if this situation will continue or whether it is just the normal sequence of events to be expected in the state.

Climate Tools:

1. From My NASA Data: A Comparison Study of Water Vapor data To Precipitation over North America.
2. From My NASA Data: Provides the instruction to analyzing the effects of El Nino and La Nina.
3. From NOAA: Current and Anticipated Precipitation Anomalies
over the U.S.
4. From NOAA/NWS: U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook.
5. Use NASA data to track changes in precipitation patterns. Instructions for accessing NASA's GRACE and TRMM missions are located here.


Date: 7/20/2011

Scenario Images:

Hot and Dry
Parched land! Most warming has occurred since the 70s with the 10 warmest years during the past 12. Photo courtesy of NASA.

Flood Risk
The melting of snow along with spring rains pose significant flood risks to much of the Northern U.S. each year. Photo Courtesy NOAA.

Hastings Minn
View of 2011 flooding near Hastings, MN. Photo Credit,



IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Working Group 1, Summarey for Policymakers (Cycle A)
Projected patterns of precipitation changes p. 16. This pdf takes a while to download so be patient.


NASA Computer Model Suggests Future Crop Loss Due to Potential Increase in Extreme Rain Events Ov... (Cycle A)
NASA computer models predict that agriculture losses due to extreme events may double over the next 30 years.


State of the Climate Drought (Cycle A)
"Based on the Palmer Drought Index, severe to extreme drought affected about 25 percent of the contiguous United States as of the end of June 2011, an increase of about 6 percent from last month. About 33 percent of the contiguous U.S. fell in the severely to extremely wet categories."


Texas Drought Update from State Climatologist, JohnNielsen-Gammon (Cycle A)
An analysis on the current drought and its relation to past droughts in the state.


The Impact of Arctic Oscillation on El Niño winters (comprehensive) (Cycle A)
A paper from the 21st Confernce on Climate Variability and Change.


NASA's Earth Observatory: La Nina Fact Sheet (Cycle B)
This article points out the change in the Pacific's sea surface temperatures. The information provides background on what to look for in El Nino, La Nina comparisons.


NOAA Fact Sheet: How is Precipitation Changing? (Cycle B)
"Observations show that changes are occurring in the amount, intensity, frequency and type of precipitation. These aspects of precipitation generally exhibit large natural variability, and El Niño and changes in atmospheric circulation patterns such as the North Atlantic Oscillation have a substantial influence."


U.S. Had Most Extreme Spring on Record for Precipitation (Cycle B)
By Joe Romm, a review of the national precipitation record and relation to climate change.


Water Resources Sector from the U.S. Global Cnange Research Program (Cycle B)
"In the United States, the Global Change Research Act (GCRA) of 1990 mandates that every four years an assessment of the impacts of global change in the U.S. be conducted by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)." This section discusses water.


Widespread Flood Threat To Continue Through the Summer (Cycle B)
A NOAA media release discussing the flooding of 2011.


NASA's Aquarius Mission's Classroom Activites (Cycle C)
NASA's contribution water cycle education.


NOAA Education Resources (Cycle C)
Activites, videos and games for classroom use about the water cycle.


Sample Investigations:


Investigating the Climate System (Cycle A)
Problem based modules in precipitation: NASA uses satellites to investigate ground conditions.
Difficulty: beginner


Investigating the Precipitation-Streamflow Relatinoship (Cycle A)
From the Earth Exploration Toolbook. The intricate relationship between precipitation and streamflow is illustrative of the complexity and changing nature of the water cycle. These key aspects can be investigated to help understand the water cycle.
Difficulty: beginner


Science Project: Measuring Local Precipitation From My NASA Data (Cycle A)
Analysis Idea: "Compare your local measurements with the official precipitation records for your town (often taken at an airport). Use web resources such as the Weather Underground to identify privately operated weather stations near you that report rainfall. Map out the variability of precipitation for storm events."
Difficulty: beginner


Earthlabs from SERC (Cycle B)
A series of labs for exploration into topics such as drought, corals, Earth system science and hurricanes.
Difficulty: beginner


My NASA Data Lesson: Studying Cloud Coverand Precipitation (Cycle B)
This lesson seeks to understand if there is a correlation between cloud cover and rainfall. Using GLOBE and MY NASA DATA to study cloud cover and precipitation
Difficulty: beginner


Climate and Weather Investigations (Cycle C)
A huge resource for teachers and students with links to weather and climate sites all over the world. Brought to us by Earth Science Australia.
Difficulty: beginner


From NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Earth and Space Sciences Education Project (GESSEP) (Cycle C)
In this activity, students will understand the significance of anomalies in climatology. Students will access anomalies for global temperature from the NOAA National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) Monthly Temperature Anomalies web site and access and interpret:
Difficulty: beginner




  • Science
    National Science Education Standards - Science Content Standards The science content standards outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in the natural sciences over the course of K-12 education.
      The understandings and abilities associated with the following concepts and processes need to be developed throughout a student's educational experiences:
      • Systems, order, and organization
      • Evidence, models, and explanation
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Physical Science (Std B)
        • Transfer of energy
      • Science and Technology (Std E)
        • Understanding about science and technology
      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Populations, resources, and environments
      • History and Nature of Science (Std G)
        • Science as a human endeavor
      • Science as Inquiry (Std A)
        • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
        • Understanding about scientific inquiry
      • Life Science (Std C)
        • Matter, energy, and organization in living systems
      • Earth and Space Science (Std D)
        • Geochemical cycles
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      • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives (Std F)
        • Environmental quality
        • Natural and human-induced hazards
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    Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000 This set of Standards proposes the mathematics concepts that all students should have the opportunity to learn. Each of these ten Standards applies across all grades, prekindergarten through grade 12. Even though each of these ten Standards applies to all grades, emphases and expectations will vary both within and between the grade bands (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12). For instance, the emphasis on number is greatest in prekindergarten through grade 2, and by grades 9-12, number receives less instructional attention. Also the total time for mathematical instruction will be divided differently according to particular needs in each grade band - for example, in the middle grades, the majority of instructional time would address algebra and geometry.
      Mathematics instructional programs should foster the development of number and operation sense so that all students—
      • understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems;
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      • use mathematical models and analyze change in both real and abstract contexts.
      Mathematics instructional programs should include attention to geometry and spatial sense so that all students—
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      Mathematics instructional programs should focus on solving problems as part of understanding mathematics so that all students—
      • build new mathematical knowledge through their work with problems;
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      • apply a wide variety of strategies to solve problems and adapt the strategies to new situations;
      • monitor and reflect on their mathematical thinking in solving problems.
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      • organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking to communicate with others;
      • express mathematical ideas coherently and clearly to peers, teachers, and others;
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    Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994
      Geography studies the relationships between people, places, and environments by mapping information about them into a spatial context. The geographically informed person knows and understands:
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    The International Society for Technology Education From and
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