Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “climate”

National Atlas Climate

UPDATE 10/5/2014 – The National Atlas ceased to be updated as of 9/30/2014. A copy from 9/24/2014 lives on in the Internet Archive.

National Atlas Climate – https://wayback.archive-it.org/4416/20140919123206/http://nationalatlas.gov/climate.html

Representative questions that can be answered with this resource:

  • What is the average rainfall for Los Angeles, California?
  • Where did a major tornado hit in 1955?
  • What was the path of Hurricane ___________?


The Climate section has two main features. The first is a set of articles about climate versus weather, hurricane basics and other materials that might be helpful in a story where weather plays a major role.

Update October 2014: The map layers referred to below are now available for download as compressed shapefiles and must be loaded into Geographic Information System (GIS) software. I’m leaving the description below so that you can see what is potentially available. But it is not nearly as easy to use. 

The second major feature of National Atlas Climate is for its climate specific instance of Map Maker, which can be accessed by clicking on any of the “Map Maker Samples” in the upper right hand corner of the page. Clicking on “Tropical Cyclones – Major Landfalling Atlantic Hurricanes: 1990s” shows you a US map with multiple hurricane tracks on it. Look to the right of the screen to see “map layers”, scroll down until you see “climate” and you will see the following “map layer” options:

  • Average Annual Precipitation 1961-1990
  • Hazard Events 1995-2000: Avalanche, Coastal Drought, Flooding, Fog, Hail, Heat, Hurricane/Tropical Storm, Lightning, Property Damage, Severe Storm/Thunder Storm, Tornado, Tsunami/Seiche, Wildfire, Wind, Winter Weather
  • Sea Surface Temperature 1985-2001
  • Tornadoes 1950-2008: 1950-1954, 1955-1959, 1960-1964, 1965-1969, 1970-1974, 1975-1979, 1980-1984, 1985-1989, 1990-1994, 1995-1999, 2000-2004, 2005-2008
  • Atlantic Tropical Cyclones: 1850s, 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s
  • Major Landfalling Atlantic Hurricanes: 1850s, 1860s, 1870s, 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, 1910s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s
  • Pacific Tropical Cyclones: 1949, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s

The hazards maps and the various storm maps are also good for identifying what will and will not be believable in a particular setting. For example, Pacific hurricanes don’t make sense in Alaska. Wildfires do.

Search tips and story ideas:

To get some idea of story potential, try checking out major landfalling hurricanes in the 1860s to find the category 3 storm that ran through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in August 1860. Or try Tornados between 1955-1959 and check out the numerous tornadoes in Louisiana in October/November 1957. Click on the red triangles to see the date of the tornado along with numbers of people injured and or killed. Turn on the layers for cities and counties and you’ll get a clear idea of where these tragedies happened.


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