Climatology

What’s Going On in This Graph? | Extreme Temperatures

Updated: March 17, 2022

This graph appeared in the Jan. 11, 2022 New York Times article “A Vivid View of Extreme Weather: Temperature Records in the US in 2021. ”

United States temperatures in 2021 broke more high and low records in more regions, and with more variation than is typical. The NOAA’s Global Historical Climatology Network data shows that about 8.3 percent of the high temperature records and 2.3 percent of the record low temperatures were broken in the more than 7,800 national weather stations. Is this evidence of global warming? Or, just an anomaly, an exception from the norm?

Here are some of the student headlines that capture the stories of these charts: “Burning Temps: Melting Point?” by Tommy of Arizona; “Hot and Cold, Fire and Ice, Be Prepared” by Alex of Fla .; “Temperature switch up” by Valerie of Charlotte, NC; and “Temperatures and the Dangers They Bring Are on the Rise! How Can We Stop It? ” by Roberto of Perth Amboy, Crazy Temperatures in a Crazy Year ”by Dia and“ Thermometers Set a Personal Record ”by Alexa of the Academy of Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, all from NJ

You may want to think about these additional questions:

  • Which temperature record is broken more frequently – highs or lows? How would you explain your choice using evidence from the graph?

  • The article includes twenty bubble maps for each of the years between 2002 and 2021. Notice and wonder about the regions of the country which have experienced record breaking high and low temperatures over this period. How has the location of these record breakers changed over time?

  • The article includes an explanation of how the data for the graph and map was collected and analyzed. This is no easy task. Read the methodology explanation at the end of the article to learn how The New York Times created these visualizations.

  • Have extreme temperatures affected your area? Try to find temperature data online for your area. What measure will you use to compare temperatures in your area over the years? You can use yearly or more frequent data. You can use extremes or average values. Summarize your methodology and your analysis.

Keep noticing and wondering. We continue to welcome your online responses.

The next graph on refugees from Ukraine will be released by Friday, March 18 with live-moderation on Wednesday, March 23. You can receive the 2021-2022 “What’s Going On In This Graph?” schedule by subscribing here to the Learning Network Friday newsletter. In the meantime, keep noticing and wondering.

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Below, we define mathematical and statistical terms and how they relate to this graph. To see the archives of all Stat Nuggets with links to their graphs, go to this index.

STACKED TIME SERIES GRAPH

A stacked bar graph shows subgroup counts or percentages for a categorical variable. A time series graph shows the change in a variable over time. A stacked time series graph shows the change in subgroups of a categorical variable over time.

The Extreme Temperature graph shows the percentage of more than 7,800 US weather stations for each year that recorded the record highest or lowest temperatures. For 2021, approximately 8.3 percent of the stations had record high temperatures and 2.3 percent of the stations had record low temperatures. The number of high temperature records broken has been greater than the number of low temperature records in 26 of the past 31 years.

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