Getting Started

The amazing planet we live on is made up of so many different elements, the first of which is weather. Being able to predict tomorrow’s weather is one of the most challenging and frequently requested bits of information to provide. Do you need a coat tomorrow? Will soccer practice be canceled? Will the crops freeze tonight?

One of the greatest leaps in meteorology was using numbers to predict the flow of the atmosphere. The math equations needed for these (using fluid dynamics and thermodynamics) are enough to make even a graduate student quiver with fear. Even today’s most powerful computers cannot solve these complex equations! The best they can do is make a guess at the solution and then adjust it until it fits well enough in a given range. How do the computers know what to guess?

We’re going to build our own homemade weather station and start keeping track of weather right in your own home town. By keeping a written record (even if it’s just pen marks on the wall), you’ll be able to see how the weather changes and even predict what it will do, once you get the hang of the pattern in your local area. For example, if you live in Florida, what happens to the pressure before the daily afternoon thunderstorm? Or if you live in the deserts of Arizona, what does a sudden increase in humidity tell you?

By the end of the labs in this unit, students will be able to:

  • Identify and describe various weather instruments.
  • Represent data in tables and graphs to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season.
  • Obtain and combine information to describe climates.
  • Design and build an experiment that is able to track clouds across the sky.
  • Explore ways to measure temperature and pressure of the atmosphere.
  • Understand what humidity is a measure of, and how to record its daily values.
  • Differentiate observation from inference (interpretation) and know scientists’ explanations come partly from what they observe and partly from how they interpret their observations.
  • Measure and estimate the weight, length and volume of objects.
  • Formulate and justify predictions based on cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Conduct multiple trials to test a prediction and draw conclusions about the relationships between predictions and results.
  • Follow a set of written instructions for a scientific investigation.

Select a Lesson

Special Science Teleclass: Thermodynamics
This is a recording of a recent live teleclass I did with thousands of kids from all over the world. I’ve included it here so you can participate and learn, too! You’ll discover how to boil water at room temperature, heat up ice to freeze it, make a fire water balloon, and build a real …
Introduction to Creating a Homemade Weather Station
Being able to predict tomorrow’s weather is one of the most challenging and frequently requested bits of information to provide. Do you need a coat tomorrow? Will soccer practice be canceled? Will the crops freeze tonight? Scientists use different instruments to record the current weather conditions, like temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed, humidity, etc. The …
Anemometer
Most weather stations have anemometers to measure wind speed or wind pressure. The kind of anemometer we’re going to make is the same one invented back in 1846 that measures wind speed. Most anemometers use three cups, which is not only more accurate but also responds to wind gusts more quickly than a four-cup model. …
Barometer
A barometer uses either a gas (like air) or a liquid (like water or mercury) to measure pressure of the atmosphere. Scientists use barometers a lot when they predict the weather, because it’s usually a very accurate way to predict quick changes in the weather. Barometers have been around for centuries – the first one …
Hygrometer
Hygrometers measure how much water is in the air, called humidity. If it’s raining, it’s 100% humidity. Deserts and arid climates have low humidity and dry skin. Humidity is very hard to measure accurately, but scientists have figured out ways to measure how much moisture is absorbed by measuring the change in temperature (as with …
Thermometer
First invented in the 1600s, thermometers measure temperature using a sensor (the bulb tip) and a scale. Temperature is a way of talking about, measuring, and comparing the thermal energy of objects. We use three different kinds of scales to measure temperature. Fahrenheit, Celsius, and Kelvin. (The fourth, Rankine, which is the absolute scale for …
Rain Gauge
Also known as an udometer or pluviometer or ombrometer, or just plan old ‘rain cup’, this device will let you know how much water came down from the skies. Folks in India used bowls to record rainfall and used to estimate how many crops they would grow and thus how much tax to collect! These …
Cloud Tracker Weather Instrument
One of the most remarkable images of our planet has always been how dynamic the atmosphere is a photo of the Earth taken from space usually shows swirling masses of white wispy clouds, circling and moving constantly. So what are these graceful puffs that can both frustrate astronomers and excite photographers simultaneously? Clouds are frozen …
Sensing Temperature
Have you ever wondered how an ice-cold glass of water gets waterdrops on the outside of the cup? Where does that water come from? Does it ease it’s way through the glass? Did someone come by and squirt the glass with water? No of course not.
Soaking Up Rays
Heat is transferred by radiation through electromagnetic waves. Remember, when we talked about waves and energy? Well, heat can be transferred by electromagnetic waves. Energy is vibrating particles that can move by waves over distances right? Well, if those vibrating particles hit something and cause those particles to vibrate (causing them to move faster/increasing their …
Liquid Crystals
If you’ve completed the Soaking Up Rays experiment, you might still be a bit baffled as to why there’s a difference between black and white. Here’s a great way to actually “see” radiation by using liquid crystal thermal sheets. You’ll need to find a liquid crystal sheet that has a temperature range near body temperature …
Seasons
One common misconception is that the seasons are caused by how close the Earth is to the Sun. Today you get to do an experiment that shows how seasons are affected by axis tilt, not by distance from the Sun. And you also find out which planet doesn’t have sunlight for 42 years. The seasons …