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.
free online tool http://www.climate.washington.edu/trends/
lets anybody interact with the records going back as far as 1881 and
look for significant trends.
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.
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
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.”
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
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.
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.
tool displays quality-controlled records of temperature and precipitation
beginning in the late 1800s. These data are a subset of federal weather
observations, known as the U.S. Historical Climatology Network, which includes
the best-located stations with the longest records the agency recommends using
to look at climate trends.
the map, stations with an increasing temperature trend show up as a red bubble,
and decreases are blue. A statistically significant increase gets a big red
bubble, while a statistically significant decrease gets a big blue bubble.
temperature, the map is filled with big, red bubbles.
those trends the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest?
said Bumbaco, who is also a research scientist at the UW’s Joint Institute for
the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean. The most striking trends are in summer
nighttime temperatures, the daily minimums, which she says are increasing
across the region.
team surveyed other state climatologists, on-air meteorologists and other
potential users in the region to get feedback when creating the tool.
can use the map’s navigation button to zoom in or out, and then click a
triangular button below to access buttons that select regions of the map.
Clicking on a single station pops up a summary of its data and creates a line
graph below that shows each year’s observations over time. Clicking several stations
compares those observations. Tools at the left can have the popup window show
changes over the entire period of observations, per year or per decade. Users
also can add a trend line to the line graph, add an average value, or compare a
location with the statewide average.
tool gently encourages users to display statistically significant trends by
showing a gray color if the time period is shorter than 30 years, considered
the minimum for a climate trend.
the bottom of the screen are buttons that let users download, export or email
Cory, a technical advisor at Tableau who helped create the tool, said the
ongoing collaboration allows him to learn more about how to visualize unique
datasets and help people create user-friendly interfaces.
basic advice for new users is to interact,” Cory said. “People are used to
visualizations being static, and they don’t realize that if I move my mouse
over, something happens, and if you click, something happens.”
tool also includes snow-water equivalent, a measure that takes density into
account, for Washington state beginning in 1930 from the federal Natural
Resource Conservation Service sites. The snow observations are best for April
and show decreases in many parts of the state.
in the Pacific Northwest doesn’t show a clear trend, though many areas show
wetter springs, Bumbaco said.
Climate Impacts Group has been working with Tableau since 2016 to create other,
more forward-looking tools, such as a future precipitation changes, or
projected changes in streamflow around Leavenworth, Washington. The partnership
with the Office of the State Climatologist creates consistent and common
visualization tool for the two groups.
collaboration with Tableau has helped us to consider everything from what
colors you use and how thick should the lines be, to addressing bigger issues,
like where you start with a visualization, how users navigate through it, and
what information users need to navigate it successfully,” Roop said.
updated Pacific Northwest climate trends analysis tool is open source, so other
regions of the U.S. or other countries could potentially use it to display
their historical observations using the same Tableau interface.