Quantifying Winter: Climate and Weather Data Resources

It may be a new year, but for better or for worse, we have over two months of winter left. Whether you love snow or hate it, and whether you can’t get enough cold weather or can’t wait to move somewhere warm, you can always find detailed data on what the weather’s been doing where you are (or where you wish you were).

What do we measure about winter weather?

Two of the major dimensions when talking about any weather or climate topics are temperature and precipitation. Other common factors include wind speed and wind chill. Items that do not usually make their way into neatly aggregated datasets, but that could provide additional detail on the on-the-ground, so to speak, impacts of winter weather include tonnage of road salt and other de-icing agents in a given season, or the number of winter weather advisories and warnings in a given month.

How are these measurements usually taken, and by whom? Who is the source for the weather data that RPC uses?

The highly specific weather factors (temperature, precipitation, wind speed, etc.) are measured by agencies like state surveys, and are often released on a monthly basis in datasets associated with different sites.

Locally, the Illinois State Water Survey’s Illinois Climate Network releases their Monthly Summary Data reports online. This is the data that we reference for our Regional Dashboard’s Natural Resources page, and each report includes much more information than the basics in the Natural Resources page’s Weather Summary table. If you’re looking for data from other states, we recommend starting with the websites of similar agencies, like state water and geological surveys, and extending your search from there if necessary.

Two more great resources are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI). These websites offer data, analysis, news items, and more, for the nation as a whole, categorized by topic, and broken down by region.

How does CCRPC use environmental data?

The plans, reports, and studies that CCRPC produces often have an environmental component, whether it’s an impact review, a sustainability chapter, or an appendix of data and analysis. Weather and climate resources like those discussed above help us create better documents based on sound data.

What about measuring other potentially winter-related occurrences, such as traffic incidents?

It’s easy to hypothesize about incidents and occurrences to measure and analyze that could be correlated to winter weather. A prime example of this is traffic. That a greater number of traffic incidents occur either in winter months or on days with inclement weather are both reasonable hypotheses.

There is data available on traffic incidents in our area: CUUATS produces the Selected Crash Intersection Location (SCIL) reports, which include facts about traffic incidents at various intersections in Champaign-Urbana. These reports cover overlapping five-year periods. The earliest report available covers 1993-1998, while the most recent report, published in 2015, covers 2009-2013. All reports dating back to the 2001-2005 edition include some analysis on weather and road surface conditions.

In addition to the SCIL reports, data on traffic crashes that resulted in severe injuries or fatalities between 1999 and 2014, including details on weather, road surface, and other conditions and associated spatial data are available on the CUUATS Data Portal.

What about information on winter preparedness and safety?

Of course, there’s more to winter weather information than knowing this month’s total precipitation or minimum temperature: winter safety is important in any temperate climate. You can usually find winter weather advisories wherever you find your forecast information, which will keep you up to date on major weather events coming up in the East Central Illinois area.

In addition to knowing what weather is on the horizon, it’s important to know how to prepare for winter storm events in general. The National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have a Winter Safety webpage full of tips and advice for preparing for winter weather and staying safe through the season.

We talk a lot on this blog about the importance of good data – that’s true regardless of the topic. Whether we’re using this data as part of our Regional Dashboard or as an input in an environmental impact review, or whether we just want complain about the weather in a quantifiable way, these climate and weather data resources are important to be familiar with.

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