Frequently Asked Questions - Climate

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been acquiring and distributing climate and weather data for quite some time.  The Physical Sciences Division (PSD) of the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) is a great course of many forms of data.  Here you can find hourly precipitation over the U.S. or the monthly Palmer Drought Severity Index from 1850.  Do you want daily Outgoing Longwave Radiation, monthly Soil Moisture from 1948, or Ocean Salinity?  How about 2015 Cooling Degree Days Anomaly or last week’s mean Sea Surface Temperature?  You get the idea; there is a vast collection of data that is easily accessible to you.

Start your search by navigating to the ESRL – PSD site at:

Take some time to explore the site.  Under the Data link look in the Gridded Climate and Satellite sections. Next under the Products link explore the Map Room.  You can generate many static or looping maps of Sea Surface Temperature, El Nino events, Outgoing Longwave Radiation and other data.  For most data you can generate a nice map and then download the data used to produce this in a format you can use for further analysis!

Search and Plot Data

One of the real highlights of the site is the Plotting & Analysis section under the Products link.  There are many links to navigate directly to sub sections of the site.  The first link, Search & Plot Data is a very good way to dig into the many forms of data available.  Select a Data Set such as NOAA Global Temperature or a Variable such as Wind Speed and click Search.  You will be presented with one or more products to explore.  Click Create a plot or subset in the product you wish to work with and you are taken to a page to define your plotting terms. 

The Axis Dimensions section defines the spatial extent.  The Other dimension Value section will allow you to select a temporal range.  We recommend a few changes in the Plot output options section to improve data visualization.  Change the default Contour Lines to Contour Fill and increase the Scale plot to 150%.  Click on the Create Plot or Subset of Data button to visualize your data.  If you need to make changes to your selections use the browser back button and adjust the mapping options.  When you have what you want click on the FTP the data link below the plot to download the data in the NetCDF format.  These data can be opened in a variety of analysis software including ENVI, ArcGIS and Matlab