Climate Outlooks for the Next 3 Months - Probability Maps

NOAA National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Tool/Software , Numerical/Computer Model , Map
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.




Climate Outlooks for the Next 3 Months is an online tool that provides temperature and precipitation predictions, based upon current climate models, for the United States.  Predictions are presented as a map where predicted variations from temperature and precipitation normals are presented in different colors.  All locations on the maps fit into these categories: A = predicted to be above normal; B = predicted to be below normal; E.C. = equal chances of below or above normal; and N = predicted to be normal.  This resource was not designed specifically for the classroom.  An activity is not provided.  However, there is an introduction, a small section about how to use the resource (including example of sectors that use the Climate Outlooks - farmers, fire-fighters, natural resource professionals), and access to the models.  Teachers will need to design a task for students in which they are provided with a problem/issue that requires the use of the Climate Outlooks predictions to solve.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
  • Grade 12
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 10
  • Grade 9
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-5 Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global or regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth systems.

Clarification Statement: Examples of evidence, for both data and climate model outputs, are for climate changes (such as precipitation and temperature) and their associated impacts (such as on sea level, glacial ice volumes, or atmosphere and ocean composition).

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to one example of a climate change and its associated impacts.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Climate Outlooks for the Next 3 Months - Probability Maps is not a classroom ready activity. It is an organized description of how members of the public, including K-12 students and teachers, can access the 3 Month Outlooks Probability Maps and some ideas about how to use the maps. The maps are the results of NOAA’s climate modeling. Follow the directions for accessing the maps. The resource explains that farmers, ranchers, firefighters and natural resource managers use outlook maps to prepare for possible future conditions. The teacher could ask the students to discuss which map (0.5 Month outlook, 1.5 month outlook, 6.5 month outlook, etc.) would be the most helpful for each type of stakeholder. For example, if you coordinate California firefighter efforts, which outlook maps would you want to consult as you plan your budget for the upcoming year? Another way to use this resource would be to engage the students in testing the validity of the model. Print either the 0.5 or 1.5 Month Outlook map for temperature, precipitation, or both. Have each group of students select a location on the map and determine if that location is predicted to be above, below or at normal for the 3 months. Instruct the students to research the location to determine what is normal for that time period and calculate what the temperature/precipitation will be if the prediction is accurate. Then have the students keep track of the daily temperature/precipitation for the location throughout the 3 month period. Finally, ask students to analyze their data to determine how close the actual temperature/precipitation was to the predicted. As a teacher becomes more familiar with the resource even more sophisticated projects are possible. For example, this resource can be used to develop deeper understandings about the process of developing prediction models. If planned ahead, students can compare the predictions made at 0.5 months out to those made at 6.5 or 12.5 months out. This requires printing the 6.5 or 12.5 month prediction maps ahead for the following academic year, but allows students to explore ideas like: If the 0.5 month and 3.5 month prediction maps are always more accurate than the 6.5 and 12.5 maps, then why does NOAA expend resources creating 12.5 month prediction maps? Can you find trends in the inaccuracies in predictions for different regions and/or over different time periods? If so, what implications do your observed trends have for future models?

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Climate Outlooks are computational models that predict expected variations in the temperature and precipitation for the United States. The resource could be used in several ways. Students can be directed to use this resource to develop and support an explanation of regional differences between predicted and observed values. Students could be asked to analyze and compare past El Nino and/or LaNina years to determine if the US is headed into a new El Nino/LaNina year. They could be challenged to use the models to make plans/decisions regarding a climate-based community problem. For example, a high school class from a region that had recently experienced a major flooding event could look at the 3-month outlooks to assist with building a community recovery plan. Another idea is to divide the class into groups and assign each group a different region of the country. Have each group review the outlooks for their region, determine if the model suggests that an El Nino, La nina, Drought/Flood, or other event is likely, and then keep track of actual temperature and precipitation to verify the prediction. Some of these ideas require the use of Climate Outlooks data. Past 0.5 1-month and 3-month Climate Outlooks maps can be accessed through the “Archive” link. Click on the archive link and then submit the desired year and month. These maps are available from October 1995 to present.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Prior to supercomputers and satellites, humans did not have the ability to collect, evaluate, or visually display global climate data in ways that would make websites like Climate Outlooks possible. Engage students in a conversation or assign them to research the development of human abilities to model and predict climate change. Teachers could introduce the first half of the Disciplinary Core Idea (the magnitudes of human impact are greater than they have ever been) through a discussion of why prediction models like Climate Outlooks are important and how they are used.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The Climate Outlooks models are used to make predictions about how future temperature and precipitation will vary from normal. The Climate Outlooks models use climatological data from 1981 – 2010 to provide the “normal” ranges for temperature and precipitation and describe the chances that upcoming conditions will be in the top or bottom third of historical observations. The models use 30 years of past data to make predictions about how the next 3-months will differ from normal. Ask the students how do these models

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Climate Outlooks is public access to NOAA’s most up to data climate prediction models. As such, the content provides the potential to support 3-Dimensional learning because it is access to a real analysis of real phenomenon. These models are an analysis of data (the practice) that explains stability and change (the crosscutting concept) within the topic of climate change (the disciplinary core idea). This resource can also be used to develop understandings that predictions are verified as they happen rather than through the development of investigations/experiments. Since there is no “activity”, it is up to the teacher and or students to determine how to use the resource.

  • Instructional Supports: The resource provides a brief description of the models, who uses the models and how to access the models. No guidance for classroom use is provided.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This is not a classroom activity. No activities are suggested and no assessments are provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource simply provides access to existing climate models. It is convenient for classroom use because the models are updated monthly, however there is no interactivity.