Climatic Data Elements
A climatic data element is a measured parameter which helps to specify the climate of a specific location or region, such as precipitation, temperature, wind speed and humidity. Descriptive terminology for climaticdata elements are:
Element Name - The full description of the element being referenced at the climate station (e.g., maximum temperature).
Element ID - Is a shortened identifier for the element, usually 4 characters in length (e.g., TMAX (maximum daily temperature), TMIN (minimum daily temperature), PRCP (precipitation, etc).
Element Duration - The interval between measurements of a data element. Common data element durations available for the station could include monthly, daily, or hourly.
The following description of climatic data elements is a condensation of the material contained in the National Weather Service Observing Handbook No.2, Cooperative Station Observations, the Weather Station Handbook and Interagency Guide for Wildland Managers, and the American Meteorological Society Glossary of Meteorology.
Statistical analysis of climatic data generates descriptive information which reflects the average atmospheric conditions at a location, as well as generating probabilities that extreme events will occur. Any statistical analysis of climatic data, due mainly to the limited number of samples available, must follow the rules for statistical analysis. An important rule governing small sample analysis requires a minimum of 30 samples. This does not mean that climatic data with less than 30 years of data cannot be analyzed, but that some adjustment be made to estimate what a 30 sample set would produce.
Air Temperature - Temperature is a measure of the hotness or coldness of air. It is measured on some definitive temperature scale. Two scales are commonly used. The Fahrenheit and Centigrade temperature scales establish the freezing of water at 32/0 degrees respectively and boiling point at 212/100 degrees respectively. The Fahrenheit scale is used most frequently in the US and Centigrade throughout the rest of the world. Air temperature is usually measured with either a liquid-in-glass maximum and minimum thermometer mounted in a vented, wooden box or with an electronic sensor.
It is important that thermometers be shaded from sunlight to avoid an erroneously high measured temperature. Instrument shelters are designed to rectify this problem. For more information on instrument shelters, see the Weather Station Handbook - an Interagency Guide for Wildland Managers.
Evaporation - Evaporation is the physical process by which a liquid is transformed to a gaseous state. Evaporation is influenced by solar radiation, air temperature, vapor pressure, wind, and possibly atmospheric pressure. Evaporation varies with latitude, altitude, season, time of day, and sky condition. Accurate evaporation readings requires careful maintenance of an evaporation pan which contains water. The water depth is measured daily and adjusted for any precipitation which may occur.
Precipitation - Precipitation refers to all forms of water, liquid or solid, that fall from the atmosphere and reach the ground. Precipitation includes, but is not limited to, rain, drizzle, snow, hail, graupel, sleet, and ice crystals. It is one of the most basic data elements collected by any climate station. Dew, frost and rime are excluded, since they are a result of water vapor in air condensing or freezing onto a surface.
The standard U.S. precipitation gage has an eight inch diameter mouth and height of about 30 inches. Non-recording gages simply collect precipitation; amount of precipitation must be measured by an observer. Recording gages have instrumentation which records the time, duration, and intensity of precipitation. Most recording gages store information on a paper strip, which is generally changed weekly by an observer. Precipitation intensity and duration, useful information for many NRCS design activities, can be derived from information gathered by precipitation gages.
The biggest factor in precipitation measurement error is wind. Strong winds during precipitation events can cause considerable differences between measured and actual precipitation. Measurement errors can also result from small amounts of dew, frost, and rime accidentally included in the total measured precipitation. Even with careful placement, all gages underestimate theÂ realÂ precipitation, particularly with snowfall.
New Snow - New snow is the incremental amount of snow that has fallen since the last snow depth observation. Delineating between new snow and old snow presents a challenge. A snow board (generally a sheet of plywood) can provide an artificial surface at the top of the existing snow. Snow boards are laid on top of old snow when there is any possibility of new snow falling. After each observation of new snow, the board is cleaned and placed in a new location. Board placement and measurement location are the greatest source of error in determining new snow.
Snow Depth - Snow depth is the actual depth of snow on the ground at the time of measurement. Snow depth is usually measured daily and determined to the nearest whole inch with a calibrated stick, such as that used with the 8-inch non-recording rain gage, or a ruler or yardstick. Snow should be measured in several locations and averaged to avoid errors induced by drifted snow.
Snow Water Equivalent - The water equivalent of snow is the depth of water that would be obtained by melting the snow cover. Water equivalent of snow is continuously measured (weighed) by recording gages which are winterized with an antifreeze solution. For non-recording gages, the snow catch collected by the standard rain gage (with the funnel and small tube removed) is melted by adding a known amount of warm water. The total amount is then measured and the added amount of warm water subtracted to yield the observed water equivalent. Most snow water equivalent measurement errors are associated with not selecting a representative location or the mechanics of subtracting water added to the total catch.
Soil Temperature - Soil temperature measures the hotness or coldness of soil. Soil temperature is very important to the agricultural industry. Most seeds require a certain soil temperature in order to germinate. Soil temperatures are commonly measured at 2, 4, 8, 20, 40, 60, and 120 inches with the 4-inch reading being the most frequently observed. Readings are usually observed and recorded daily. Maximum, minimum, and current temperatures are generally recorded above 8 inches. At greater depths, where temperature changes more slowly, only the current temperature is normally recorded. Different species of plants have specific soil temperature ranges in which they will grow.
Solar Radiation, Incoming - Incoming solar radiation is the total electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun striking the earth. Much solar radiation is absorbed by air molecules, reflected back into space, or refracted as it passes through the atmosphere. A pyrheliometer measures the direct solar radiation that passes through the atmosphere unimpeded. It consists of an enclosed radiation sensing element with a small aperture through which the direct solar rays enter. A pyranometer measures the combined incoming direct solar radiation and diffuse sky radiation. It is mounted such that it views the entire sky. Both instruments can be connected to electronic recording devices to collect the measurements. Solar radiation sensors must be cleaned regularly and exposed properly to accurately measure solar radiation.
Wind - Wind is the motion of air relative to the surface of the earth. Wind speed and direction, the two primary elements, are usually measured with an anemometer and wind vane, respectively. Wind speed is generally measured in miles per hour; direction is measured in degrees to the nearest ten(s) (10 to 360) with 360 degrees being north, 90 degrees being east, 180 degrees representing south, and 270 degrees being west. Wind measurement accuracy is primarily influenced by sensor height and nearby objects.