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People talk about the weather all the time.

But is it ever really interesting?

In the winter, actually yes!

Winter’s a great time to get elementary kids hooked on meteorology, says Bob Henson, a meteorologist and blogger at Weather Underground: “With all the variety and rapid changes, it’s one of the coolest times to watch the weather.” And there’s no better lab, he says, than the atmosphere around us every day. Kids can set up their own inexpensive weather stations in the backyard with simple thermometers or more sophisticated technology that will beam statistics to a smart phone. Some systems will even report the conditions kids measure directly to larger weather reporting agencies, like Henson’s own Weather Underground, so kids can be part of reporting the weather to the world.

Middle school kids may be asking a question that’s been on a lot of people’s minds: why is it so unseasonably warm in the north, and so unseasonably cold in the south? “This coming winter we have a very strong El Niño in place,” Henson says. “We’ve only had a couple on record this strong.” And the season El Niño affects most? Winter. So according to him, the northern U.S. can expect temperatures that are as much as 30 degrees higher than normal all winter, while the south can expect cooler temperatures. And it’s a good time to encourage kids to start exploring how global patterns, like the warmth of the Pacific Ocean, can affect local conditions—like whether they have snow in their own yard.

High school kids can start to think more deeply about the consequences of changes in the weather. For instance, Henson says, the temperature of winter nights is rising more quickly than temperatures at any other time, or in any other season. And although no one knows exactly why, the effects are significant. In Henson’s native Colorado, bark beetles have begun to destroy large numbers of trees, because the winter nights don’t often get cold enough to destroy their embryos. When high school kids are old enough to drive, they can also think about how winter weather affects their personal safety, says Henson. Despite all the hype about big storms, he says, simply driving “is probably the most dangerous thing about winter.” According to the US Department of Transportation, one in five auto accidents are weather related.

So next time conversation is dragging at the dinner table, call up an old favorite subject. You might be surprised how interesting it is.

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