New Interactive Climate Tool Reveals Temperature and Rainfall Changes In Your Own Backyard

By Lisa Stiffler, Geek Wire

When I opened a new online tool for mapping changing temperatures, snow pack and rainfall across the Pacific Northwest, I immediately zoomed into the dot representing Seattle. Then I shrank the nearly 150 years of data available to span only my lifetime.

Because while global warming is a planetary phenomenon, with this tool, it was all about me.

And according to Tableau Software’s Dan Cory, that’s a totally normal response.

This sort of visualization is powerful because it helps people “learn about themselves,” said Cory, a principal technical advisor at Seattle-based Tableau who helped create the free tool.

“That is what you can really feel,” he said. “Visualization really helps you find yourself on a map.”

Karin Bumbaco, Office of the Washington State Climatologist and the University of Washington, presenting climate data. (Photo courtesy of Karin Bumbaco)
And what the maps and charts show are red, pimply dots indicating warmer temperatures pocking the Seattle region.

Over the past century, the Seattle area has warmed 1.52 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) on average, while the state overall has heated up slightly more (1.85°F).

What’s even more troubling is the 40-plus years that cover my personal existence. During that recent window, the state was even warmer, ticking up slightly less than half a degree per decade on average. It’s not a hopeful record.

The Pacific Northwest Trend Analysistool covers Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Western Montana. The Office of the Washington State Climatologist in partnership with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group recently released the interactive site. Tableau donated its time and expertise on the project, which took about four months of part-time work to complete.

The default map displays 137 weather stations that for many decades have taken daily measurements of temperatures and rainfall. The tool also includes the “snow water equivalent,” which is the amount of water held by the snowpack. Those data are available for Washington only.

“It’s a clear way to present what is already happening,” said Karin Bumbaco, the assistant state climatologist for Washington and a researcher with the UW’s Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean.

Globally, there is also a clear, long-term warming trend. And the past three years have been the three hottest on record, according to the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with 2016 ranking warmest so far.

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