Weather & Climate

July monsoon clouds seen from Deer Trap Mesa in Los Alamos. (Photo by Craig Martin)

This week on Take It Outside, we are exploring weather and climate. Explore monsoon season, build a weather station, play in the rain, and more!

Summer Nature Challenge:

You’ll earn this weather sticker by participating in Weather & Climate Week!

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to


Blog Post:

In this week’s blog post, PEEC volunteer Jean Dewart explores the science behind the monsoon season in Northern New Mexico and gives an update on outlooks for the 2020 season. Read it here.

Outdoor Challenges:

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to


Challenge #1 – Play in the Rain!

One of the best things about rain is to get outside and splash in it. Smell the petrichor, feel the cool drops on your skin, take off your shoes, dance, sink your fingers into the mud, and float leaves and sticks in rivulets. Be aware of traffic, lightning (stay inside if you hear thunder), and flash flooding (avoid canyons when rain is falling in the watershed).


PEEC volunteers Dave North and Akkana Peck installing the weather station at the Los Alamos Nature Center. (Photo by Rachel Landman)

Challenge #2 – Build a Weather Station:

There are good reasons to have your own weather station. For one thing, weather can be extremely localized. Comparing rain and other measurements with neighbors only a few blocks away can give very different results. Knowing the nearby air temperature also gives you a better idea of when to open and close windows, turn on fans, and how to employ other low-cost and energy-efficient alternatives to using heat or air conditioning.

You can craft a simple weather station with household materials using this guide from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). With it you can craft tools to measure wind speed, wind direction, air temperature, rainfall, and more at your house! 

This week, we challenge you to build at least one of these instruments and take a weather-related measurement at your house. Let us know what you record!

Did you know that we have our own weather station at the Los Alamos Nature Center? Check out its readings on Weather Underground!

Thanks to PEEC volunteer Dave North for sharing some weather station tips for this challenge!


Exploring the outdoors after a rain can be a great time to observe wildlife! This summer camper discovered a worm in August 2019! (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Challenge #3 – Rain and the Ecosystem:

Water is life! Observe how wildlife and plants behave after rain. Look for evidence of the following:

  • Worms emerging from the ground
  • Insect larvae hatching in stagnant water
  • Birds and other wildlife drinking from and bathing in puddles
  • Plant leaves changing from a wilted to perky appearance
  • Seeds germinating in damp soil
  • Lawns and natural areas greening over several days


Want to Learn More?

  • Did you know that you can get a nearly real-time professional weather readout from Los Alamos National Laboratory’s Weather Machine. Check out this page to explore the weather in Los Alamos County.
  • If you were inspired by this week’s outdoor challenge, you can purchase a weather station to set up at home for more accurate readings. According to Dave North, there’s no real need to spend top dollar. The accuracy difference — if any — between the most expensive amateur units and cheaper units is not really significant. Be sure to calibrate your machine if you decide to get one! This is an important step to get accurate readings. Learn more about personal weather stations here.
  • Check out NASA’s Climate Kids page for interactive learning about our climate.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Monsoon Season

Monsoon season brings heavy rains, and impressive clouds, to New Mexico. Enjoy the moisture, but be sure to head inside if there is thunder and lightning! (Photo by Craig Martin)

By Jean Dewart

During the fall, winter, and spring, precipitation is brought to New Mexico by midlatitude westerly winds. As the jet stream moves north in the late spring and early summer, Northern New Mexico typically comes under the influence of the North American Monsoon weather pattern. The word monsoon comes from the Arabic word mausim, which means weather. Owing to the yearly appearance of torrential rain in the Middle East, indicating a marked shift in weather, the concept of monsoon gradually came out of mausim.

During the summer months, the Bermuda high pressure moves west into the Gulf of Mexico and the central high plains of the United States and a low pressure area is created by the high temperatures of the Phoenix, Arizona – Las Vegas, Nevada areas. These circulations combine to bring moisture into Mexico, and produce southerly winds that bring this moisture into Arizona and New Mexico (see figure below).

Figure republished from “Arizona and the North American Monsoon System” by Michael Cummins, September 2006. (University of Arizona, republished with permission)

In 2008, the National Weather Service defined the North American Monsoon season as June 15 to September 30. Significant rainfalls that have a moisture source in Mexico typically begin during the first week in July in Los Alamos. The 1981– 2010 average monsoon precipitation in Los Alamos is 9.28 inches and has ranged from as low as 3.15 inches in 1956 to as high as 17.58 inches in 1952. The 1981 – 2010 average monsoon precipitation in White Rock is 6.46 inches and has ranged from as low as 1.66 inches in 1980 and as high as 13.33 inches in 2013.

What can we expect for our 2020 monsoon season? It has certainly gotten off to a slow start, with 0.46 inches of rainfall in Los Alamos and 0.23 inches of rainfall in White Rock, from June 15 – July 12. National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Church of the Albuquerque NWS office, has done an evaluation of this year’s monsoon season — it can be found here.

The author has looked at the impacts of equatorial Pacific sea surface temperatures, planetary scale atmospheric circulations, and various model predictions from many countries. He concludes that New Mexico will have an average to slightly below average monsoon season. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for an average season!

Week 2, Day 5: Spring Weather & Clouds

Storm clouds over the mesas of Los Alamos. (Photo by Craig Martin)

Explore New Mexico’s spring weather and clouds in today’s Take It Outside post. We will have a Saturday bonus post up tomorrow morning exploring spring astronomy and celebrating Earth Hour

Then, join us on Monday, March 30 to learn more about our four-legged friends in Northern New Mexico! We’ll look at scat, tracks, native reptiles and amphibians, black bears, mountain lions, and more.

Upcoming Event:

Join Galen Gisler this evening for a virtual astronomy talk! Galen will discuss the age of the Earth and how we know it. This talk is free to watch, but registration is required. Learn more and sign up here.

Blog Post:

On the blog today, atmospheric scientist and McCurdy Charter School sixth grade teacher Christy Wall shares some facts about why spring weather in New Mexico is so unpredictable. Check out her post here.

Time lapse of moving clouds taken at Piñon School. (Video by Beth Cortright)


Make a cloud in a jar! Follow these simple instructions from NASA to make a cloud in a bottle using some basic kitchen tools, warm water, ice, and a match. Adults should help children with this project.

What does your cloud look like? Tell us about it or share your photos!

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Head outside and observe the clouds in the sky! Take your nature journal with you and use cotton balls or colored pencils to make pictures of the clouds you notice. Can you identify what kinds of clouds you’re seeing? Use this chart to help you!

Wait a few hours and head outside again. What do the clouds look like now? Have they changed? Tell us what changes you notice!

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Observe the clouds today and classify them by:

  • Cloud type: Identify the type of clouds you see using this dichotomous key.
  • Cloud cover: How much of the sky is covered by clouds? Use the graphics on this page to help you estimate.

Share your classification with us! It will be interesting to see how everybody’s observations compare throughout the day.

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what signs of spring you notice this week! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us tomorrow morning for a special weekend bonus post! We’ll explore spring astronomy so you can stargaze over the weekend and celebrate Earth Hour.

New Mexico Spring Weather

A cloudy spring sky seen from Abiquiú, New Mexico. (Photo by Christy Wall)

By Christy Wall, Atmospheric Scientist and 6th Grade Teacher at McCurdy Charter School

Have you ever heard somebody say “If you don’t like the weather, wait around a few minutes. It will change.” This statement is usually true for weather in the spring, especially when you live in New Mexico!

You might be wondering: “Why is our spring weather so unpredictable?” In the spring, New Mexico begins to get more sunlight as Earth rotates on its tilted axis. More sunlight means warmer temperatures, and this sets the stage for a battle between cold and warm air. These differences in temperature cause differences in air pressure — and differences in air pressure result in wind!

Clouds near Los Alamos, NM. (Photo by Craig Martin)

During winter, a band of strong winds high in the atmosphere called the polar jet stream transports weather systems into New Mexico. You’ll often hear meteorologists talk about cold fronts, which are the boundary of an approaching area of cold air. During winter, cold fronts often bring snow storms and very cold temperatures. In the days before these fronts pass, we often have strong winds from the south.

As winter becomes spring, the polar jet stream begins to move north, but sometimes it still dips far enough south to bring a cold front to New Mexico. One big difference in spring is that the south winds before the front bring warmer air with them. These days often feel abnormally hot. When the cold front moves through, it can still bring snow and cold temperatures with it. This means that the days prior to the arrival of the front can feel like summer, but when the front passes, we’re back to winter. If the polar jet stream doesn’t dip quite far enough south, New Mexico may miss out on the snow, but still have slightly cooler temperatures and high clouds when a cold front passes through.

My favorite part of spring is the change in our clouds. In the winter, the clouds we see overhead are primarily made of ice. Once it gets warmer, we have clouds made of both ice and water. This sets the stage for my favorite weather phenomenon — thunderstorms! As the ground heats up in the spring, rising air produces a special kind of cloud called a convective cloud. These clouds grow through vertical motion, making really cool shapes.

You can contribute to cloud science by noticing the clouds and reporting what you see to the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program. GLOBE is a worldwide science and education program sponsored by NASA that helps us all learn more about our Earth systems and changing climate.