Weather, Migrations, and Plants
Integrating Meteorology and Journey North

ongoing as students make local observations and analyze Journey North News updates, maps, and data

* Journey North migration and weather maps (from Updates)
* Plant Hardiness Zone Map


Overview: As students make local observations and analyze Journey North News updates, maps, and data, they think critically about the relationship between weather and seasonal events.

Seasonal and day-to-day changes in weather dramatically influence the growth of plants and the timing and course of migration. Factors such as temperatures, wind speed and direction, pressure fronts, and precipitation can affect a migrating animal's route and timing, energy use and conservation, and physical health. These can also affect availability of food sources, such as insects and nectar. (See Tips on Reading Weather Maps, below.)

Wind direction is one the most critical weather factors for most species we track. Warm spring winds from the south and cold fall winds from the north push migrants forward. Temperature is another key factor. In general a species arrives earlier than average in early warm springs; cool, late springs bring later arrivals. Many migrating species avoid rainy, overcast weather, fog, and high winds. Some will stop in the middle of their journey if they encounter bad weather while over land.

Weather-Related Journey North Lessons and Reports:

But that's just for starters. A mix of weather-related factors influence each species' migration. For instance, robins often move ahead of warm fronts, arriving just before or along with rainy weather – just when their food source (earthworms) must emerge from their tunnels or drown! Weather at a migrating animal's destination can indeed be critical for survival. Imagine a water bird getting to its northern habitat to find that water bodies are still frozen! An adaptation for survival? Follow the spring thaw northward!

Weather conditions often combine with local geography to influence migrations. For instance, because flapping flight is so energetically expensive, eagles, monarchs, and other species take advantage of rising air currents called thermals or updrafts. Try the lesson Up, Up and Away: Thermals and Updrafts.

Laying the Groundwork
Ask, What choices do you make in a day or week that depend on the weather? Once the class or small groups have generated a list, ask, What patterns do you notice? How can the weather affect our ability to do things? Next, have students respond to this question in their journals or discuss it as a class: How do you think weather might affect animal migrations and the progress of other spring events? Tell them they'll have a chance to revisit this question later in the season.

Teacher Tip: See what fourth grade teacher Dave Kust has to say about weather and migration.

Exploration, Part 1
How does day-to-day weather (and the general climate of an area) seem to influence animal migrations, plant growth, and other seasonal events? Throughout Journey North News updates, you'll find suggestions for exploring this question using current and archived data. If you are participating in a plant study or following a migration that passes through your area, your class can set up a schoolyard weather station and use Journey North’s Weather Observation Chart to track weather phenomena.

Here are some strategies for engaging students in thinking critically about meteorology and seasonal events.

  1. If you are exploring signs of spring locally, have students gather data from their schoolyard weather station, save the daily weather maps from your newspaper, or view weather online weather maps.

    With any Journey North study, have students pay attention to the data and maps on migrations and other seasonal events in Journey North News updates and then compare this information with weather data and maps from the same period. They should routinely ask, Where have our species, plants, or other signs of spring been observed? Are there any patterns or relationships between weather and these seasonal events? You may want to start simply, by looking at just one factor, such as temperatures. Eventually, students can begin to look at a combination of factors.

    Departure from
    Normal Temperatures

    You can find these maps here.
    You may also want to compare current data with maps in the Journey North archives or with maps showing how the temperatures depart from normal temperatures for each period of time. (This assessment tool provides a visual example that combines both ideas.)

  2. Here are some general questions to ask yourselves when comparing weather maps with weekly or archived Journey North maps:

    • What patterns do you notice?
    • What general statements can you make?
    • Do temperatures (or wind direction or speed, air pressure, weather fronts) seem to affect migrations or plant growth? If so, how? What's your evidence? Why do you think that occurs?
    • What do you predict will happen next (for instance, with the direction or pace of the migration)? Why?

  3. If you're tracking local plants or migrations, ask, What is the weather like the first day or week our species (or plants) appear in your area? In other areas? What patterns, if any, do you notice? How would you explain them? What other explanations might exist?

Exploration, Part 2: Journey North and Plant Hardiness Zone Maps
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map shows the lowest temperatures that can be expected each year in the United States, Canada, and Mexico. These are referred to as "average annual minimum temperatures." (The divisions are based on a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference.) The colors on the map give a picture of "climate bands" and show how cold it gets. This should give us a glimpse of where spring might come earlier.

  1. Have the class locate your community on a Plant Hardiness Zone Map and find the minimum temperature ranges for your zone on the key.

  2. Have students use these maps to make predictions about the path of your species or timing of tulip emergence or other seasonal events. Then ask the following questions throughout the season:

    • Do you see any correlation between the colored "Plant Hardiness Zones" and the path or timing of the events we're tracking? Explain your thinking.
    • Does it differ from your prediction? Why might that be?
    • In which Plant Hardiness Zones do you predict your species or plants will appear next? Why?

  3. Each week, students should describe how the migration pattern and plant hardiness zones compare. Discuss why a vegetation map might be helpful when analyzing seasonal events, such as a hummingbird or monarch migration. (In this case, it gives us a sense of where spring might come earlier as well as where sources of nectar and larval food might be available.)

Making Connections

  • You'll find discussion and journaling questions in Explorations 1 and 2, above.
  • Late in the season, have students revisit the question they pondered in Laying the Groundwork: How do you think weather might affect animal migrations and the progress of other spring events? Ask them to expand on their original responses in their journals, incorporating what they've uncovered during their Journey North journeys.


National Science Education Standards

Science as Inquiry

  • Use data to conduct a reasonable explanation. (K-4)
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. (5-8)
  • Think critically and logically to make a relationship between evidence and explanations. (5-8)

Life Science

  • Organisms have basic needs and can survive only in environments in which their needs can be met. (K-4)
  • The behavior of individual organisms is influenced by internal cues (such as hunger) and by external cues (such as a change in the environment). (K-4)

Earth Science

  • Weather changes from day to day and over the seasons. Weather can be described by measurable quantities, such as temperature, wind direction and speed, and precipitation. (K-4)

Geography Standards

  • How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information.