In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Climatology

  • Introduction
  • Software
  • Tornado Climatology
  • Hail Climatology
  • Lightning Climatology
  • Snow Climatology
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Other Significant Climatological Resources

Geography Climatology
Jennifer M. Collins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 October 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 October 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0096


According to the American Meteorological Society (AMS) glossary, climatology is defined as “the description and scientific study of climate.” Climate is defined as “the slowly varying aspects of the atmosphere–hydrosphere–land surface system; typically characterized in terms of suitable averages of the climate system over periods of a month or more, taking into consideration the variability in time of these averaged quantities.” Categorization of climatology depends on the source one consults. The AMS glossary identifies three subcategories, based on the complexity and purpose of the research: descriptive climatology, scientific climatology, and applied climatology. Descriptive climatology deals with the observed geographic or temporal distribution of meteorological observations over a specified period of time. Scientific climatology addresses the nature and controls of the earth’s climate and the causes of climate variability and change on all timescales. Applied climatology addresses the climate factors involved in a broad range of problems relating to the planning, design, operations, and other decision-making activities of climate-sensitive sectors of modern society. Other authors have divided the field of climatology into many different topical subfields; for example, paleoclimatology, paleotempestology, historical climatology, boundary-layer climatology, physical climatology, hydroclimatology, dynamic climatology, regional climatology, bioclimatology, applied climatology, and synoptic climatology. Geographic information systems (GIS) and geographic information science (GIScience) are at the cornerstone of geographical climatology and have been identified as key to the future development of the climatological subfields. While literature in these subfields continues to amass, providing a greater depth of knowledge and content to the subfields, the theme of climate change is increasingly crosscutting all topics and spatial and temporal scales of research inquiry in climatology, including the science, impacts, and policy implications. The categories provided in this article complement the section on climatology in Mark Welford’s Oxford Bibliographies article “Physical Geography.” Whereas the climatology section of that article focuses on these traditional subfields of climatology, including climate change, this article focuses on the climatology of some extreme atmospheric conditions and specific hazards: tropical cyclones (examining regional climatology, oscillations, and paleotempestology, the latter a more modern subfield that has emerged), tornadoes, hail, lightning, and snow. In addition, a section on the subfield of Paleoclimatology is presented. It should be noted that there are many more areas of extreme climatology, including rainfall and floods. This article begins with a review of some of the key books, data, and software used in the field and concludes with a discussion on some other important resources about which climatologists should be aware, including information on the climate specialty group of the Association of American Geographers, access to the listserve CLIMLIST, a guide to climate-based geography graduate programs, and some educational resources. The author would like to thank Justin Hartnett, Dr. Grady Dixon, and Dr. Philip Klotzbach for their contributions, advice, and/or suggestions with the snowfall, tornado, and hurricane section, respectively.

Key Books

There are currently a number of textbooks on climatology. Several are focused at the introductory level for undergraduates (e.g., Robinson and Henderson-Sellers 2014, Oliver and Hidore 2010, Barry and Chorley 2009, Moran 2012, and Rohli and Vega 2017, all cited under Introductory Textbooks). Other textbooks are more advanced and specialize in specific subfields of climatology, such as the comprehensive Barry and Carleton 2001 (cited under More Specialized Books), which reviews synoptic and dynamic climatology, and books focusing on climate change, such as O’Hare, et al. 2005; Bridgman and Oliver 2006; Brunner and Lynch 2010; and Kitchen 2014, all cited under More Specialized Books, as well as Ruddiman 2014, cited under Introductory Textbooks. Many specialized books on climate change in particular, such as Teegavarapu 2012 (cited under More Specialized Books), have an applied aspect and are geared toward those working in the area of hazard mitigation. As noted in the Oxford Bibliographies article “Physical Geography,” a “must have” book for those interested in climatology is Lamb 1995, cited under More Specialized Books, which was the first in-depth book (when considering the first edition, published in 1982) highlighting how climate has affected the Earth.

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