UW, Tableau Create Interactive Tool to Explore More Than a Century of Pacific Northwest Weather Observations

By Hannah Hickey, UW News

The University of Washington’s College of the Environment has teamed up with Seattle visual analytics company Tableau Software to create a new, interactive visualization for historical observations of temperature and precipitation in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and western Montana, and for Washington snowpack.

The free online tool lets anybody interact with the records going back as far as 1881 and look for significant trends.

“This tool lets anyone, from researchers to meteorologists to members of the public, look at the actual data to motivate why we should care about our climate changing, and see how it is changing in our own backyard,” said project lead Karin Bumbaco, the assistant state climatologist for Washington.

The tool uses Tableau’s interactive visual analytics platform to select one or several National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stations in the Pacific Northwest, plot the trend and play around with time periods, seasons and other variables.

“You have to have people explore historical climate in order to understand the context of future climate,” said project co-lead Heidi Roop, lead scientist for science communication at the Climate Impacts Group. “We hope Tableau visualizations like these will become go-to resources for engagement and exploration of climate data in our region.”

A previous version of the tool ran on Google Maps and was the most popular feature on the state climatologist’s website. But it sometimes crashed and it was cumbersome to load new weather observations, so it was updated infrequently.

The new tool was created in the summer of 2018 when the UW Climate Impacts Group and Office of the State Climatologist hired UW atmospheric sciences alumnus Matt Rogers to migrate the tool from Google Maps to Tableau.The new platform launched in September is more visually appealing, more stable and is easier to update, with plans to update observation records every few months. Users can access it to easily explore the data for their city or region, and produce graphics that display the data and any significant trends.

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