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Winter's Story

    How can falling snow, snowstorms, snowpacks and ice cores help us understand weather, climate and climate change?

    Winter can be fun! A good snowfall makes sledding, skiing -- and a snow day off from school -- all possible. Long periods of below-freezing temperatures allow skating on lakes and ponds. Scientists look forward to cold weather so they can study the affect of winter on Earth. They examine snowpacks and ice cores from areas that have been in deep freeze for centuries to understand the climate and the climate change in those areas.

    As NASA pursues answers to the fundamental question, "How is Earth changing and what are the consequences for life on Earth?" NASA researchers are studying climate and climate change. NASA satellites are providing important data for everything from daily weather reports to studies of rainfall, sea ice melting and changes in glaciers. Winter tells its own, special story about the water and energy cycle, weather, and climate.

    The Student Observation Network module Winter's Story explores the essential question "How can falling snow, snowstorms, snowpacks and ice cores help us understand weather, climate and climate change?" The module provides an authentic context for students to learn about the water cycle, weather and climate. In this module, students collect and organize data from many NASA missions to make it easy for them to engage in inquiry. Winter's Story includes three units: Weather Watch, Snowstorms, and Snow and Ice.

    The Goal
    The Winter's Story module is designed to engage students in grades 4-12 in scientific investigations that allow them to construct an understanding of the processes described above by:
    1. Collecting their own weather data and comparing it with professional weather data to predict snowstorms and monitor the storms. Students can also use long-term weather data to understand the climate in their location.

    2. Observing snowflakes as they fall and connecting shapes to temperature and moisture conditions in the clouds.

    3. Using their own data and comparing it with professional data to characterize snowstorms and understand weather patterns.

    4. Examining their snow pits and ice cores and comparing to weather data to understand the stories that layers of snow and ice tell about weather change.

    5. Comparing their snow and ice core data with that of professionals to help understand climate change.

    The Structure
    You can use lessons developed at the local level to teach the basic concepts or use the recommended resources in each of the Winter's Story units. The module offers multiple levels of activities and professional data. You have the freedom to choose those activities most appropriate to your students and curriculum goals. In each unit, there are three components:
    From Students -- Students collect and analyze local weather data. Students compare their data to that of professionals or other students. There are data collection sheets, in PDF format, that may be downloaded, printed and duplicated for your students.

    From Weather Stations -- Students learn to collect data from NOAA and SNOTEL weather stations using various Web resources.

    From Satellites -- Students use satellite imagery produced from data collected by NASA, NOAA and the WW2010 Project from the University of Illinois.
    Assessment tools are not provided because of the wide range of usage demonstrated by teachers. However, asking students to use authentic data, make predictions and defend those predictions can be an excellent way of assessing mastery of concepts.

    You or your students may think of other weather or climate-related questions to investigate. Once the students have answered the essential question, learned critical concepts and become familiar with the data, the Winter's Story module provides the potential to develop inquiry assignments in which the student proposes a research topic, collects data from the various ground-based observatories and satellites, and presents the results.

Winter's Story Units

  • Weather map

    Weather Watch

    Gather weather data, track snowstorms and predict how much snow will fall.

  • Snow covered tree limbs


    Measure weather conditions and snow depth during snowstorms and use this information to learn about weather systems.

  • Person in warm clothing pointing to a large ice wall

    Snow and Ice

    Examine snowpacks and ice cores for evidence of weather change.

Related Stories

  • Woman laying in the snow making a snow angel by moving her arms and legs back and forth

    Telling Winter's Story

    NASA Explorer School teachers learn about extreme winter conditions at the Winter's Story workshop.

  • NASA ISS Science Officer Don Pettit peers at the Earth through a window in the Destiny Laboratory.

    Don Pettit's Space Chronicles on Ice

    Join astronaut Don Pettit on an Antarctic expedition as he compares exploration of extreme environments on Earth with space exploration.

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