Here’s when you can expect the coldest day of winter

The absolute worst of the season, in one handy map

(Credit: NOAA)
(Credit: NOAA)

Welcome to winter — it only gets worse from here.

Well, at least until the cold reaches its nadir, after which things’ll start to warm up again. (Seasons are cyclical! Gets me every time!) If you want to plan ahead for that week when it’ll be best to stock up on canned soup and not leave the house — or for when you need to have your “yes, global warming is still happening even though you’re cold right now” arguments rehearsed and ready — the NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center’s got you covered. The image above (click to enlarge) maps data from daily low temperatures averaged out over the past 30 years, showing the typical “coldest day” for any given area.

As you’ll notice, the Western U.S. usually hits its low point earliest, while those of us on the Eastern half won’t see the worst of winter until January. NOAA also notes that regions that tend to get more snowfall, like the Northeast and high-altitude areas of the West, also reach their coldest day later in the year, “which is likely because of the increased reflection of solar radiation at the Earth’s surface due to the presence of snow cover.”

The map can’t account for upcoming polar vortexes or other surprise weather systems, of course. Something else the map leaves out that’s worth remembering is that cold no longer means what it used to. As Climate Central explained during the heart of last winter’s freeze fest, extreme, record-setting, tear-duct freezing cold is less common than it was even 20 to 30 years ago. And winter, as a whole, is slowly but measurably warming, at a rate of .61 degrees Fahrenheit per decade since 1970.

The Birds in the Yard May Look Very Different By 2075


The Baird Sparrow is projected to lose 90 percent of its range by 2075. DOMINIC SHERONY, VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
The Baird Sparrow is projected to lose 90 percent of its range by 2075.

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey, published in PLOS ONE, predicts that in 60 years,the distribution of bird species across the nation is going to be very different, due to changes in climate, habitat encroachment by humans and other factors.

“Habitat loss is a strong predictor of bird extinction at local and regional scales,” Terry Sohl, a USGS scientist and the author of the report, said in a press release published in ScienceDaily. “Shifts in species’ ranges over the next several decades will be more dramatic for some bird species than others.”

The study used computer modeling to look at the effects of various factors on 50 different North American bird species.

VIDEO: Why Species Become Extinct

Some types of birds will become much rarer, such as the Baird sparrow (Ammodramus bairdii), which will lose 91 percent of its present range. Others, such as Gambel’s quail (Callipepla gambelii), whose range will increase by 62 percent, will spread to new areas across the United States. The general pattern seems to be that birds that are now found in hotter climates will benefit, while the northern species will suffer.

While climate change, which alters migratory patterns and the availability of food, is a major influence upon birds’ future, other human activities are also altering their environment. ”Changing landscape patterns such as deforestation and urban growth are likely to have at least as large of an impact on future bird ranges as climate change for many species,” Sohl said.

NEWS: World’s Earliest Bird Species Discovered

The forecast is particularly bleak for the Baird sparrow, which was discovered by James Audubon in 1844 and named after Spencer F. Baird, 19th-century ornithologist and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. The small, brown, short-tailed bird has populated the prairies since before the European colonization of the Americas. It currently nests in the Dakotas, Montana, and Minnesota, as well as the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. It winters primarily in northern Mexico, although some may be found in southern Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.

The sparrow species experienced sharp population declines as much of its habitat was converted to agricultural use in the 19th and 20th Centuries, but its numbers appeared to stabilize after that, according to a 1999 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service document.

From the Audubon Society website, you can listen to recordings of the Baird sparrow’s songs, which future Americans may not hear so often, if at all.

How do you map a city?

Last week, we invited our readers to collaboratively map the city of Baraka, DRC as part of the Missing Maps project. Here’s what happened



Mapping Baraka, one square at a time. Photograph: Linda Nylind

On a crisp and dark Friday night in November, 80 keen cartographers – Guardian readers, of course – arrived at our headquarters to do something that has never been done before: to digitally map the city of Baraka, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were joined by over 100 remote mappers, laptops at the ready.

The event was part of the Missing Maps project, a collaboration between the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the British and American Red Cross, which aims to create free, open-source maps for every settlement on Earth – especially vulnerable places where mapping can dramatically improve processes of aid and disaster relief.

As well as a team of mappers, we were joined by members of HOT and the British Red Cross, who enabled us to use the open-source mapping tools to start overlaying satellite images with lines and shapes that represented roads, buildings and other key parts of the city’s infrastructure.

By the end of the night, 70% of Baraka was mapped – and we hope our readers will continue their cartographic endeavours to map more as part of the project.

Here are some snapshots of how the mapping progressed throughout the evening – both at Guardian HQ and remotely. From all of us at Guardian Cities, we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who was involved!

How GIS Can Aid Emergency Management

Eric Holdeman  5 Nov 2014

A screen shot of Esri’s impact summary map for the Napa, Calif., earthquake that struck on Aug. 24, 2014. View the map.
A screen shot of Esri’s impact summary map for the Napa, Calif., earthquake that struck on Aug. 24, 2014. View the map.

Susan Cutter, a geography professor at the University of South Carolina, discusses the use of GIS in emergency management and the ‘why of the where’ when working with maps.

Susan L. Cutter is a Carolina Distinguished professor of geography at the University of South Carolina where she directs the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute. Her primary research interests are in the area of disaster vulnerability/resilience science — what makes people and the places where they live vulnerable to extreme events and how vulnerability and resilience are measured, monitored and assessed.

Cutter is a GIS hazard mapping guru who supports emergency management functions. I posed a series of questions about mapping and asked her to respond in writing. In Cutter’s responses she reminds us to ask the “why of the where” question when looking at maps.

What has been the evolution of hazard mapping in the United States, and how does that compare with what is being done in other countries?

Hazard mapping has a long history here in the U.S. going back to the 1960s with the work of Gilbert F. White and his insistence that we map not only where the hazards are, but where people live and work relative to the risks, what he called the human occupance of hazardous areas. Hazard mapping has evolved hand-in-hand with the understanding that we can never truly control nature. Mapping has shifted from a focus on the event itself (modeling physical processes) toward a focus on understanding interactions between people and the environment. The U.S., because of the large diversity in possible hazard threats to the nation, has become a leader in hazard mapping and the integration of new tools and technologies (such as GIS, remote sensing, GPS) into the emergency management cycle.

Besides mapping hazards — such as flood zones, seismic areas and the like — how else do you see a GIS map being useful to emergency managers?

GIS is more than mapping. It is also an analytical, data management and visualization tool. GIS can be used for situational awareness, for identifying ideal locations for prepositioning assets ahead of an impact, for understanding the relationship between hazard exposure and social vulnerability as part of the hazard mitigation planning process. GIS models and simulation capabilities enable decision-makers to both exercise response and recovery plans during non-disaster times and also understand near real-time possibilities during an event. Essentially, if you have data, it can be mapped, analyzed and utilized to make better decisions in a measureable amount of time.

The best thing that emergency managers can do is identify local partners who could assist with mapping and analysis needs. This could be a local community college, college or university. One place to start that is specific to hazard assessment would be the local or state HAZUS user’s group, which would likely include qualified and interested geospatial experts focused on hazards. The other option is to work through the local planning departments and county councils of government. Rather than focusing on the master planning process, work with them on emergency management topics such as hazard mitigation and risk assessment.

There are many forms of social data — information about people such as age, income, ethnicity drawn from sources likes the U.S. census, or data derived from social media. The former is used to assess the location of vulnerable and special needs populations within a community. Knowing about the landscape of this social vulnerability helps to identify which populations may need assistance in preparing for, responding to and recovering from events.

Social data from social media is currently used to disseminate messages and information from emergency management in a top-down approach. Steps are being made in research circles to utilize “citizens as sensors” to create a more realistic real-time picture for situational awareness to aid decision-makers.

The choice of software will be a function of the resources and expertise that is locally available. If you don’t have a dedicated GIS person, it may not make sense to have the full complement of Esri software. In these instances use of “best available” data from online sources may be the appropriate choice. On the other hand, Web-mapping, mobile data collection and analysis, and desktop modeling using Esri software is now approachable and very useful for the less than hard core GIS users, like myself.

You as a university support the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD). Do you think that is a good model for others to try to establish? If so, how would you advise states and universities to find a mechanism for partnering?

The partnership we formed with SCEMD has been beneficial — students see the real-world application of the work they are doing; SCEMD gets cutting-edge science infused into its programs and in some cases becomes a model for the nation. It is a win-win situation. Each state will have a different mechanism for partnering. Not all emergency managers may be amenable, nor will all universities. The key is identifying people who are willing to work together for a common goal and take it from there. If there is willingness to work together for the betterment of the state, mechanisms can be found to formalize collaborations.

Mobile technology like smartphones and tablets along with higher connection speeds are revolutionizing how we access data. What impact do you see this having on computer mapping, its use and how we can adapt that to emergency management purposes?

These technologies are revolutionizing emergency management and mapping as well. For example, we now collect field data on recovery using iPads and directly upload data to the cloud and our servers at the university. This technology not only cuts down on processing time (and errors) but it also means we can generate maps much more quickly. Real-time damage data could be collected using this method post-disaster, meaning that detailed preliminary damage assessments can be produced in hours, not days. Add in citizen sensor data from social media and the possibilities of crowdsourced damage and recovery information becomes a reality.

Social media continues to increase in the way it is being used to impact people’s daily lives. What general uses for mapping can be applied to leverage social media use by average citizens that might benefit community resilience?

Mobile devices have geocoding within them. Currently we can, as an example, look at Twitter and see what is being said and (more importantly) where tweets are coming from on the ground. Maps of the tweets and content provide a better picture of the situational awareness, impacts and citizen status in a truly ground-up rather than top-down approach. It is an exciting and new field that is relatively unexplored at present.

You have provided some good advice as to how to use GIS to improve emergency management programs. What mistakes have you seen people make in using GIS in emergency management, and what should we do to avoid them?

One of the biggest issues has to do with cartography (the science of making maps). Just because you can use the GIS software, doesn’t mean you understand the fundamental nature of spatial (or geographic) relationships. Once they see the map, emergency managers need to ask additional questions as to why (or what I like to call, the why of the where). The map shows the distribution of shelters and occupancy, for example, but a further question is why are some shelters over-subscribed while others are not? Also GIS personnel should become aware of the pitfalls of using certain classification or symbolization schemes so as to avoid misrepresenting data or displaying data out of context.

Is there anything you would like to add?

It is important to me personally and professionally that research be used to improve the human condition by being relevant, useful to practitioners and providing the empirical basis for sound public policies. To find out how we go about doing this, y’all come for a digital visit to HVRI

US2020 Seeks Executive Director



All children deserve the opportunity to discover and achieve their dreams. Citizen Schools makes this possible for thousands of high-need middle school students nationwide through partnerships with public districts that extend the school day and introduce caring adults, from some of the nation’s most successful colleges and corporations, in order to drive hands-on learning opportunities and combat the opportunity gap that exists between low income and advantaged communities.  Across the nation, students in low income communities spend, on average, 300 fewer hours per year than their middle and high income peers, on supplemental academic and enrichment activities – such as robotics camp, piano lessons and academic tutoring. US2020, a division of Citizen Schools, works to provide these types of opportunities to more students by dramatically scaling the number of STEM professionals mentoring and teaching students through hands-on projects, with a focus on serving underrepresented communities.


US2020 has set a challenge for the nation’s STEM corporations to make volunteering in schools an expectation for their employees. Similar to the way lawyers are asked to complete pro bono work to promote equity and positive social change, volunteering should be the “new normal” for STEM professionals who are uniquely able to inspire students to develop the skills and interests needs for a career in the field. It’s a pathway to combatting the poor math and science scores that plague schools throughout the United States and a way to ensure our youth is better prepared to meet the needs of our growing economy.


Citizen Schools is seeking an experienced Executive Director to lead the work of US2020 nationally.  Reporting to the Chief Executive Officer, the Executive Director will lead a team of 8 to grow the division’s funding base, strengthen existing partnerships, cultivate new corporate and community partners and oversee the development of a technical platform that matches STEM professionals with opportunities to volunteer in their community. This is a challenging role supported by an experienced US2020 Board with senior executives and a number of national corporate partners including: Chevron, Cisco, Cognizant, Raytheon, SanDisk, and Tata Consultancy Services. Citizen Schools’ national governing Board chaired by former US Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers.


To Apply, please email your resume and cover letter to