David Phillips

Classroom Weather Activities


A cornucopia of ideas for educators developed and compiled by David Phillips, Senior Climatologist with Environment Canada and well known television weather expert.

Published by the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society

August, 1997


David Phillips is the country's most popular weatherman. He originated Canada's Weather Trivia Calendar and appears on the Weather Network's "Ask the Expert" program. He is the author of the Canadian best seller "The Day Niagara Falls Ran Dry", a frequent guest on radio and television and a speaker to teacher and other professional groups.

As Senior Climatologist with Environment Canada since the 1960s, he has worked to help Canadians better appreciate the importance of weather and climate. He has also helped the World Meteorological Organization in a Data Rescue Project to help save historic weather records in Cuba and other Caribbean countries.

He is the recipient of numerous honours for his work including the Massey Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Patterson Medal from the Atmospheric Environment Service of Environment Canada.

The Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, whose aim is the advancement of meteorology and oceanography in Canada, is proud to offer David's collection of ideas in a very affordable format to help educators make better use of weather and climate in the classroom. Canada's physical environment is of interest in its own right for the significance it has for our lives. But weather and climate also offer the opportunity to provide a bridge from weather phenomena with which we are all familiar and fascinated, from storms to rainbows, to new concepts and ideas.

Further ideas are being added to this collection. For the latest additions, and other information on weather and climate related issues in Canada, check out the CMOS home page at http://www.cmos.ca/

We are continuing to update this collection. If you have additions or improvements please write to David, c/o the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society, P. O. Box 3211, Station D, Ottawa ON K1P 6H7.


Research the weather history of your city. An in-depth analysis should not rely solely on past newspaper reports. Talk to people who have lived in the community for some time. Discover if your city once had a weather observation station and locate weather data. Examine old letters, post cards, diary entries, or autobiographies to find references to weather. Have any severe storms visited your area? What impact did it have on the community?

Interview your grandparents or a senior citizen in your community about weather lore such as "Red skies at night, sailors delight." What other proverbs or weather sayings do they know? How useful are they in forecasting the weather? Select two or three weather expressions and test their accuracy over the course of a month.

Study the weather map and the written forecast from the newspaper for several weeks. Then, using only the weather map and a set of starting weather conditions, anticipate what the weather will be over the next week or two.

Watch the newspaper for stories about the weather. Focus on the sports pages one week, the business pages another, and the international, national and local news pages other times. Make a list of the social, economic or environmental impacts of weather. How often does weather get blamed for ails, troubles and outcomes?

Conduct a survey in your community to determine how weather affects day-to-day activity. Ask questions such as how often per week do you listen to a weather forecast, do you participate in outdoor weather specific activities such as skiing or swimming, or how many pairs of warm winter boots does your family own? Plot your findings on graphs and compare your results with classmates.

Learn about regional climate variations. Each student in the class will be assigned a different city across the country and will monitor precipitation, temperature and wind. On a large map the students will record findings for a week. Each day discuss variations.

Tabulate daily weather report data for your nearest location. Make a line graph of the data. Tabulate the data to obtain monthly totals, averages, anomalies (compare with normals) and describe the month in climatological terms. Share the data with students in other cities.

Make a list of all the different sounds you can hear from weather. For example: car traffic on wet
pavement, waves crashing on the shore, walk through a pile of fallen leaves or road construction work. Over the school year, each student should record their own unique sound idea. Once the tape is complete, visit other classrooms and have students guess what they hear.

What is the weather like on the different planets?

Make a list of animals that are most suited to hot climates and those that are most suited to colder climates. Determine why. For example: What unique features do polar bears have that enable them to live in cold climates, how do camels survive in the hot desert?

Make a contest out of guessing tonight and tomorrow's low/high temperature. Guess based on weather and local controlling effects.

Keep a weather diary in a special notebook for a week or more. Include the following entries: time, temperature, maximum and minimum temperature, humidity (dew point and relative humidity), wind speed and direction, pressure and pressure change, cloud cover in tenths, cloud type and height, present weather, visibility. Take your readings twice a day at the same time each day.

Calculate and keep track of heating/cooling degree days for your location and relate to
costs of heating/cooling your home.

Use a hurricane tracking chart (see attached) to keep track of tropical cyclones in the news. Plot positions given on "The Weather Channel/Network" or on the Internet. Extrapolate where you think the storm will be the next day. Compare your forecast.

Some argue that the world's climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. Prove or disprove this argument by researching trends in climate change.

Examine how weather has been used in literature to create a mood or an environment. Locate at least five authors who have used weather in this way and compose a list of their quotations.

Research the history of clothing. How is fashion connected to weather? For example, compare the traditional costume of someone from Bangladesh to that of the North American Inuit.

What was the weather like on the day you were born? If you are unable to locate documents, ask your parents.

The sun and the wind have great potential to be converted into usable energy. Research the use of solar and wind power examining both the pros and cons. What geographical areas offer the most potential?

Determine what weather sensitive industries rely on weather forecasts. Compose a list and contact a representative from at least one industry to determine how essential weather is to their business. How do they use this information?

A contrail is the white trail left in the sky from an airplane. Discuss how a contrail is formed.

Construct a wind rose using average wind data from your location over several years as published by the climate service or for the last month using a months worth of data. What is the prevailing direction? What is the average wind speed?

As ice forms over lakes and rivers many flock to play hockey, ice skate or ice fish. How can one determine whether the ice is safe? What resources are available?

Why you can see your breath in the winter?

What causes an avalanche and where are they most frequent?

Define frost and examine how it forms.

Define hypothermia. Include a list of signs and symptoms.

What is the difference between rain and drizzle?
Discuss the many different ways fog forms.

How does a hailstone form?

Define drought. What geographical areas are most susceptible? How catastrophic is this problem?

Define monsoon and locate where they most frequently occur.

What would cause a person to suffer heat stoke or heat exhaustion? Make a list of preventative measures.

Examine the weather phenomenon known as the waterspout.

Research the ecosystem of your favorite animal. What type of weather conditions does the animal require to survive?

As many North Americans participate in recreational boating, boat safety knowledge is of great importance. How does a boater stay informed on weather conditions and approaching storms while in the water? Examine the famous Titanic tragedy. What were the weather conditions? Was this accident preventable?


Make a cloud. Pour 2.5 cm. of hot water into a jar. Place some ice cubes on a baking dish and place on top of the jar. As the air inside the jar rises and is cooled by the ice, the water vapor it contains condenses into droplets making a cloud!

Make a hurricane. Fill a large bowl or basin with lukewarm water about two-thirds of the way. Stir the water gently counterclockwise and add some vegetable oil or food colouring on top of the spinning water with an eye dropper. Note that the color moves out and forms bands just as clouds do in a hurricane.

Make your own terrarium to examine water loss from plants. Cut the base off of a large plastic pop bottle. Place the bottle over a house-plant and seal the lip with a layer of petroleum jelly. After three days, water droplets should be visible on the inside of the bottle. Try this with a cactus and explain your findings.

Build an igloo. If it's made from snow, why is it so warm inside?


Pick a sunny blue sky day and lie on the ground looking for many different shapes, sizes and movements of clouds. Describe what you see - animals, mountains, sundaes, letters of the alphabet, dragons, abstract designs, etc. Can you see any form which disappears right before your eyes?

Gather a number of similar size juice cans. During a storm place the cans (meant to simulate precipitation gauges) around the school yard or other areas and carefully measure the amount of rain. Explain the differences in precipitation between events and locations.

Develop a weather log or journal and collect and record weather data for a period of a week or more. Include observations about cloud types, how the weather changed from morning to afternoon and any other interesting phenomena. Collect additional weather data from your local newspaper weather page, weather service telephone recording, television weather reports or any professional weather instrument you may have. Graph each element. (see sample log sheet)

Practice guessing air temperature and wind speed over a period of time so that you become used to the feel of weather. Try estimating the wind speed and direction using only your eyes and fingers and no instruments. Compare with instruments or observations taken from the television or radio.

Use your video camera in a fixed position to take pictures of the sky every 5 seconds to create a video cloud album.

Start observing the wind speed and direction and make note of the effects of the wind during various speeds. For example: flags fluttering or being limp; dust flying around; pieces of paper lifting, twigs and leaves moving, etc. Compare the effects with those cited in the Beaufort Scale and develop your own Beaufort Wind Scale.

Take your thermometer (home-built or purchased) outside during the middle of a sunny day. Measure the temperature over several different surfaces at several heights above the ground. Measure the temperature in the sun and shade. Repeat the experiment in the morning, noon and night.

Use all your senses and relate to the sky and weather, i.e., taste, smell, sight, hear, feel. Make a list of all the different ways in which the senses help you connect with sky.

Borrow or rent a CAM recorder and record different sky conditions.


Select one weather element and examine the evolution of instruments used to record that element. What changes and improvements have been made over time? What can we look forward to in the future?

Make a rain gauge. Cut a plastic soda bottle at a point where its width is the same as its base and then cover the cut edges with tape. To add stability lace a large handful of marbles or peddles to act as weights. Put your rain gauge on a level surface, away from trees and building overhangs.

Build a barometer. Stretch a trimmed balloon over the opening of a jar and attach an elastic band around the balloon so there are no leaks. Tape two straws together and attach one end to the centre of the balloon. Use the other end (affix a tiny triangle to make a pointer) to measure changes in pressure against an upright ruler every few hours. What kind of weather makes the straw point the highest and the lowest?

Make a rainbow machine. Place a glass of water on white paper facing the sun. The paper must be in the shadow, the glass in the bright sun. As the sun shines through the glass, a rainbow will form on the paper.

Make an acid rain indicator. Place two finely chopped red cabbage leaves into a bowl. Pour hot water over them and allow to stand for one hour. Strain the liquid into a measuring cup. Pour a few ounces of distilled water into a jar and an equal amount of rainwater into another. Add the same amount of cabbage juice into each jar and compare the color. If the rainwater turns red, it is acidic.

Make a radiometer to measure solar energy. Colour the paper side of a gum wrapper black and cut in four pieces. Stick the pieces to each side of a match stick with the shiny sides all facing the same way. Wrap a thread around a pencil and attach to the match stick. Suspend in the jar and place in a sunny location. The radiometer will turn as it absorbs energy.

Build a human-hair hygrometer. Place the hygrometer in areas of different temperature and record your findings. What is the correlation between temperature and humidity.

Make a sun dial and learn how it works.

Estimate visibility. Set up an uninterrupted view into the far distance. Use maps and driving to determine distances for several prominent features such as buildings, hills or trees at different distances. Use binoculars to estimate visibility in miles or kilometres over a period of time.

You Can Do It!

After locating weather symbols currently in use, design your own symbols which represent severe weather (hail, tornado, hurricane). Try to make them universal so that people across the world could easily recognize their meaning. On different maps, draw the symbols in areas where there is a high incidence of occurrence of each phenomena.

Create a cast of super heroes that possess the ability to predict and protect against severe weather. Your character's strength is in the knowledge of precautions and safety procedures. Make a comic book of your hero's adventures.

After researching the history of naming hurricanes, make a unique list of names you would use. Once your list is complete, determine whether any of the names you chose have ever been used. Which students in the class have had their name used as a hurricane?

In small groups, create a skit or a mime that demonstrates the proper safety procedures that should be taken during different severe storms.

Design a board game that teaches your classmates about weather. Be creative! For example, make jeopardy-type questions for categories such as historic storms, severe weather, temperature highs and lows, or weather in the movies. The object is to be the most knowledgeable, gain the most money and win! Or a snakes and ladders type game, but your version is tornadoes and hailstones. When you land on a severe weather square, you must be able to answer a weather trivia question correctly or the tornado blows you back on the board. The first player to travel across the board successfully, wins!

Pretend you are a pioneer who has just arrived to the new world. Write a letter describing what you see, hear and feel. What is the weather like and how if is different from what you are accustomed to?

Over the school year, scan the newspaper and gather articles concerning unusual or severe weather. Make a scrapbook of your findings.

Create your very own weather calendar. For each month draw a picture that represents typical weather from that month.

In groups, create a "weather activity booklet". Each booklet should include a crossword puzzle, a word search, a fill-in-the-blanks and a true/false page from information you have learned about weather. Once the kits are complete, rotate them around the classroom so that each group has an opportunity to solve the puzzles.

Research a severe weather occurrence. Using the information you have gathered, write a half-hour episode of your favorite sitcom where the characters are faced with a severe storm. How do the characters react? What precautions do they take? How successful are their attempts to protect life and property? Once you have a script, elect classmates to play the different characters. Perform your episode or record it on video tape.

Before the advent of television, the radio was a prime source of entertainment. Stories would be read and special effect sounds would "illustrate" the narrative. Using this oral tradition, write a story in which characters travel through different weather phenomenon, such as hail, rain, or a tornado. Using a variety of props "re-create" the sounds one may hear during such an occurrence. Tape record your story including your sound effects to make an old-fashioned radio program.

Match-up with a pen-pal from another country who lives in a different climate than your own. Learn about each others weather by exchanging weather data you have recorded. Share historical weather information, discuss temperature extremes or just talk about the different seasons.

Watch your favorite television weather person for several days and make notes as to what is said and what is done. Prepare a television weather broadcast using weather maps and graphics and rehearse your presentation. If possible, tape your presentation. Be prepared to do a live television weather broadcast in front of the class.

Make sky shirts use crayons or magic markers. On the back dream up a catchy sky slogan or saying of less than 10 words, such as "I'd rather be sky watching".

Design a sky logo for your sky watcher's club or meeting.


Making Rain. Outside or in a room with plenty of open space, each student should stand on an colored square of construction paper with their arms outstretched. There should be an assortment of different colors scattered around the play area. Students should pretend they are small cloud drops being blown by the wind. Once the teacher shouts "GO!" students travel from their piece of paper to another of the same color. Each time a student collides with another they should join hands keeping arms outspread and travel to the closest colored square. This is their new color. When a group of students becomes five people, they have made a rain drop and must sit down in their "puddle".
Once everybody is rained out, the game is over.

Field Trips, Special Events and Guest Speakers

Visit your local zoo and discover the different ecosystems that animals inhibit. Compare the environment several different animals inhibit including temperature highs and lows, precipitation, wind, etc.

Invite a meteorologist to your classroom to discuss this important job. Before the visit, make a class list of questions that will be asked.

Visit your national weather centre or a local weather observation station.

Across the country, many volunteers observe and record the weather. Invite a volunteer to the classroom to discuss this type of work.

Ask students to watch TV for any special weather documentaries. For example, "The Wonders of Weather". If possible, students can video tape these programs and a day can be spent watching the videos as a class.

Over the course of the school year, celebrate the different weather each season brings. Allocate four afternoons which are dedicated to each season. Students should dress in weather appropriate clothing and participate in weather appropriate activities.

Plan both a winter and a summer play-day/Olympics in which your entire school participates in weather-appropriate activities.

Hold a poster contest at your school. Students should make posters that educate classmates about severe weather and preventative strategies to minimize loss. The most creative poster should be recognized.

Invite a historian or a museum curator to the class to discuss the effects of weather on historical monuments.

URL: http://www.cmos.ca/classroom.html