WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Warming stripes explained

Posted June 18, 2020 4:09 p.m. EDT

via Climate Central, based on Ed Hawkins warming stripes visualization, data source: SE Regional Climate Center/UNC)

Scientists have a bad habit of communicating even the simplest concepts in a way that is incomprehensible not just to the general public, but to other scientists outside that field. In 2016, climate scientist Ed Hawkins of the University of Reading set out to change that for a data set he wanted better understood by more people.

Hawkins's visualization of annual temperature changes uses data from the UK Met Office going back to 1850. It shows yearly average temperatures with blue for cooler, red for warmer, and white for average years. The darker the color, the bigger the difference from the long term average.  The first year of data (1850) appears on the left, the latest (2019) on the right.

The idea took off with scientists who created visualizations for their areas from additional data from NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information in Asheville.

"Climate stripes" have been created for each country by Hawkins, each state by the non-profit Climate Central, and each county in the contiguous United States by North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies researcher Jared Rennie.

Each June 18, meteorologists and climatologists around the world "share their stripes". Warming stripes have appears not just in social media but on cars, light shows

So why is it cooler this week?

It may seem odd to be talking about warming temperatures during an unseasonably cool week.

High temperatures are normally in the upper 80s in our area during mid-June. Temperatures peaked (so far) at 81 on Sunday afternoon and haven't made it past the mid 70s since. Tuesday tied a 55 year old record when the thermometer failed to rise above 62.

But this week's temperatures describe the weather, not the climate.

Climate vs Weather

"This week" or "today" is weather, "this century", or longer, is climate.  Comedian Stephen Colbert may have put it best when he asked: “Is not climate just made up of thousands of little weathers?”

Astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson also demonstrated the difference between climate and weather on his Cosmos series with a four legged friend.

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