Geography Accessing and Visualizing Archived Weather and Climate Data
Lesley-Ann L. Dupigny-Giroux
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0240


The analysis of weather and climate information over varying temporal and spatial scales is critically important for understanding biogeochemical processes in the context of a changing climate. The instrumental record is relatively short, with observations beginning in the late 1800s in North America and earlier in Europe. Historical climatology refers to the use of documentary evidence (e.g., farmers’ diaries, newspaper entries, and whaling logs) to extend the instrumental record back through time. These observations are complemented by paleoclimatological records which include proxy data such as ice cores, lake and ocean sediments, and tree rings. The merging of all of these types of records typically involves data assimilation techniques, and the resulting time series of information are referred to as climate reconstructions and reanalyses. This article will highlight the various categories by which instrumental, historical, paleoclimate, and climate reconstructions can be accessed and downloaded, with special reference to in situ or point data versus interpolated or gridded datasets. Geospatial data access will also be presented, as will the commonly used analytical tools for data exploration. The article will conclude with Internet sites where weather and climate data and variables can be visualized, with a closing note on resources that are particularly appropriate for teaching/classroom instruction. Topics that will not be explored here include real-time weather data and forecasts; mesonet information; climate change data and modeling; metadata and data challenges such as inhomogeneities; and statistical and other numerical methods for data mining, analysis, or machine learning.

In Situ or Station-Based Data and Gridded Datasets

Daily and monthly data downloads of meteorological and climate observations can be accessed directly from websites or via file transfer protocols (FTP). The US NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) provide global and US individual station data in comma-delimited or tabular formats at their Data Access and Climate Data Online webpages. The methodology and ancillary information about these daily and monthly data downloads are provided in Menne, et al. 2018 and Vose, et al. 1992. Archived climate data can also be accessed via web services such as the Applied Climate Information System (ACIS) portal outlined in DeGaetano, et al. 2015, or in Geographic Information Science (GIS) formats as outlined in Daly, et al. 1994 and the NCEI’s GIS Portal. Finally, Fick and Hijmans 2017; MacDonald, et al. 2020; and the IRI/LDEO Climate and Society Map Room describe gridded climate datasets that are also available for downloading. Oswald and Dupigny-Giroux 2015 describes the underlying understandings about the use of these gridded datasets.

  • Daly, C., R. P. Neilson, and D. L. Phillips. “A Statistical-Topographic Model for Mapping Climatological Precipitation over Mountainous Terrain.” Journal of Applied Meteorology 33 (1994): 140–158.

    DOI: 10.1175/1520-0450(1994)033<0140:ASTMFM>2.0.CO;2

    Provided in Menne, et al. 2018 and Vose, et al. 1992. Archived climate data can also be accessed via web services such as the ACIS portal outlined in DeGaetano, et al. 2015, or in GIS formats as outlined in Daly, et al. 1994 and the NCEI GIS portal.

  • DeGaetano, A. T., W. Noon, and K. L. Eggleston. “Efficient Access to Climate Products Using ACIS Web Services.” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 96.2 (2015): 173–180.

    DOI: 10.1175/BAMS-D-13-00032.1

    Use of ACIS to provide “historical and recent in situ and gridded daily climate data (p. 173)” in ways better designed to serve decision-makers. ACIS Version 2.

  • Fick, S. E., and R. J. Hijmans. “WorldClim 2: New 1km Spatial Resolution Climate Surfaces for Global Land Areas.” International Journal of Climatology 37.12 (2017): 4302–4315.

    DOI: 10.1002/joc.5086

    A database of gridded climate information available at varying spatial resolutions (from 30 seconds [2,400 feet] to 10 minutes [9.1 miles]) in GeoTIFF format. Time frames available include 1960 to the present, as well as CMIP6 downscaled projections of future climate. Data include common meteorological information, bioclimatic variables (“derived from the monthly temperature and rainfall values . . . represent annual trends . . . seasonality . . . and extreme or limiting environmental factors”), and Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) elevation data. WorldClim.

  • IRI/LDEO Climate and Society Map Room.

    A unique collection of mapped, gridded information compiled for selected countries and parsed by topic. Time frames of interest range from monthly, to seasonal and annual. The maps were derived using probabilistic percentile mapping and seasonal averaging, and include information from global meteorological entities such as the World Meteorological Organization and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

  • MacDonald, H., D. W. McKenney, P. Papadopol, K. Lawrence, J. Pedlar, and M. F. Hutchinson. “North American Historical Monthly Spatial Climate Dataset, 1901–2016.” Scientific Data 7 (2020): 411.

    DOI: 10.1038/s41597-020-00737-2

    In this database, the ANUSPLIN thin-plate smoothing spline methodology was applied to the NCEI Northam “j” dataset to create monthly spatial models of mean maximum and minimum temperature and total precipitation from 1901 to 2016 across North America. These gridded, modeled data are available at the 60 arc-second (2-km) spatial resolution in netCDF format online. These data are of primary interest to bioclimatic, agriculture, and forestry studies.

  • Menne, M. J., C. N. Williams, B. E. Gleason, J. J. Rennie, and J. H. Lawrimore. “The Global Historical Climatology Network Monthly Temperature Dataset, Version 4.” Journal of Climate 31.24 (2018): 9835–9854.

    DOI: 10.1175/JCLI-D-18-0094.1

    Additional information available online. GHCNm v4 data are also available online. Version 4 of the temperature component of the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN)-monthly (GHCNm) dataset.

  • NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Climate Data Online.

    Online portal to the archives of historical instrumental weather and climate data at the station level, many of which begin in 1895. Daily to annual measurements are available, as are the thirty-year climate normals (definition as specified by the World Meteorological Organization [WMO]). Search tools include station identifiers, a mapping tool, or by selected datasets of interest. Links to unique datasets (e.g., county-level storm data and past forecast charts/analyses) are also available.

  • NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Data Access.

    Online portal to the archives of weather information; global station-level data; satellite, radar, and model output; marine data and paleoclimatological records.

  • NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. GIS Portal.

    Web services portal for accessing surface maps of in situ data, regional snowfall index information, radar estimates, thirty-year climate normal, and other time-related maps for the United States and the world.

  • Oswald, E. M., and L.-A. Dupigny-Giroux. “On the Availability of High-Resolution Data for Near-Surface Climate Analysis in the Continental U.S.” Geography Compass 9.12 (2015): 617–636.

    DOI: 10.1111/gec3.12249

    Discussion of the underpinnings and statistics used in the creation of commonly used climate gridded datasets.

  • PRISM (Parameter-Elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes Model).

    Climatologically aided interpolation of daily and monthly time series 1895–1980; time series for individual stations; thirty-year climate normals; average monthly precipitation and temperature for selected regions and countries.

  • Vose, R. S., R. L. Schmoyer, P. M. Steurer, et al. The Global Historical Climatology Network: Long Term Monthly Temperature, Precipitation, Sea Level Pressure, and Station Pressure Data. ORNL/CDIAC 53. Oak Ridge, TN: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, 1992.

    Original development of the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN)-monthly (GHCNm) dataset. 325 pp.

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