How a baby blanket led to the birth of climate visualization

Dr. Katherine Haxton had made six little hexagons after hours of rhythmic clicking of knitting needles and painstaking stitching, each of their multicolored rows weaving a story of decisions and their consequent repercussions that merged into a peek of what the future could bring.

Her threads, unlike those of the mythical fate weavers, do not paint a picture of a certain future. She instead visualizes historical patterns using skeins of yarn, hooks, and needles to create a database of temperature data dating back to the Industrial Revolution.

Haxton believes that she can knit a month’s worth of data in a couple of hours, putting the colored stripes in a methodical pattern to convey the story of England’s shifting environment in wool and polyester.

“As a scientist, I liked the idea,” Haxton, a senior lecturer in chemistry, told AccuWeather. “The concept of making something with wool that visualizes data appealed to me. It seemed like a much better method than looking at a bar graph on a screen, which always seemed a little intimidating, like math class or something.”

Crafters and climate scientists alike hope that this new type of data visualization will reach and connect with communities in ways that line charts and graphs cannot, so it’s only natural that a project like Haxton’s would inspire a climate scientist to create one of the most well-known and widely distributed climate graphics.

AccuWeather has provided this information. Climate Central has edited an updated version of Warming Stripes to cover data until 2021. (Source: Climate Central)

Ellie Highwood, a fellow climate scientist, came up with the idea for the baby blanket as a gift for two friends who are also climate scientists.

In an email to AccuWeather, Highwood said, “As a climate scientist, I thought it would be amusing to build one with 100 years of worldwide annual temperature data, thereby generating a century record of temperature fluctuation, which also highlighted the long-term trend of global warming.”

The “global warming blanket,” as she named it, was made out of 100 crocheted rows of various colors of yarn she had on hand at the time, each symbolizing one hundred years of temperature anomaly, or deviation from the average temperature. Starting with blues and greens, the rows gradually fade into milder tones and teals before deepening into pinks and purples. Bright yellows, oranges, and reds make up a large portion of the bottom rows.

So, I’m a crochet junkie. This is my “global warming blanket,” with stripes colored according to the T anomaly over the last 100 years… pic.twitter.com/dm9P7cLvzd June 10, 2017 — Ellie Highwood (She/Hers) (@EllieHighwood)

Professor Ed Hawkins, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in Reading, England, told AccuWeather National Reporter Bill Wadell, “I thought it was a really neat way of talking about the changing climate,” but he added that the colors Highwood had chosen for the blanket were changed to the simple blues and reds that the graphics now sport. “After that, the stripes as you see them now were born.”

“Present the truth that the globe is warming as simply and attractively as possible,” the concept went.

Warming Stripes is a pinstriped visualization of global warming that consists of many stripes representing each year from 1884 to 2020, with their individual colors reflecting the average yearly temperature in a certain country, area, or body of water. Lower temperatures are represented by cooler colors, whereas higher temperatures are represented by warmer colors.

The stripes alter from primarily blue to variants of red for almost every region or country, underlining the worldwide concern.

DOWNLOAD THE ACCUWEATHER APP FOR FREE

Since its inception, the design has become a symbol of global warming and the need for action, appearing on the badges of US senators at the 2019 State of the Union address, on the stage of international festivals by British rock band Enter Shikari, and even on the runway at London Fashion Week.

“They’ve been utilized in an increasing number of sectors to transmit simple messages and initiate critical conversations,” Hawkins said. “And because they’re so versatile, they can show up in different places and initiate dialogues in other groups, which is crucial because we need to start talks inside our own groups to push action.”

Highwood believes that knitting or crocheting the statistics is the greatest way to transmit the facts and foster an understanding of the magnitude of climate change.

“More than seeing the stripes on a screen, a clothing, or a mask, there’s something about almost feeling the data as you develop it into something physical that really helps it connect,” Highwood said.

As a teacher, Haxton sees these projects as a means to reach people who would otherwise be unable to learn about climate change, citing crafters who might want to learn but would be unable to attend a climate change lecture.

“At the moment, we’re trying to develop a project where we can maybe get people to come together to produce something like a temperature blanket,” Haxton said, adding that she planned to use it as an opportunity to start a conversation with audiences that she and her colleagues wouldn’t normally reach with science alone.

“I had this picture of a group of people sitting around crocheting or knitting or doing something else crafts to represent data and maybe have a debate about what it means,” Haxton explained.

Dr. Katherine Haxton, a senior lecturer in chemistry at AccuWeather, provided this information.

Such debates erupted at the introduction of the CoCreate Network, which brings together academics and the general public to discuss and debate topics, and where Haxton showed her work: a blanket she crocheted to depict the progressive change in annual average temperature from 1979 to 2019.

The vibrant hues attracted passers-attention, by’s prompting the million-dollar question: What do they represent?

She stated she could “see the moment of revelation when people were contemplating this blanket” as she explained it to them.

The blanket is made up of 40 rows, each reflecting a year from 1979 to 2019 and its average temperature deviation from the 1720 to 1800 yearly temperature average. A substantial block of dark blue rests at the top, fading to green yarn before returning to dark blue, demonstrating how the deviation from the norm barely soared above 1 degree Celsius for nearly a decade. However, a significant change occurs at the line representing 1989, which is about a fourth of the way down the blanket.

Purple lines appear.

Before 1979, there were times when the year’s average temperature exceeded 1 degree Celsius, with the light purple indicating a difference between 1 and 1.38 degrees Celsius. Years like these were hard to come by. But 1989 was different, with dark purple yarn representing the previous year.

The yearly average temperature in the United Kingdom was more than 1.38 degrees Celsius above the 1720 to 1800 average in 1990 for the first time since 1949.

Cities across the southern United Kingdom shattered all-time temperature records in August of that year, when a heat wave drove temperatures into the high 30s (high 90s in Fahrenheit). The heat wave affected parts of southern, central, and eastern England, as well as eastern Wales, and lasted until August 4th. According to the UK Met Office, the heat reached its zenith on Aug. 3, driving temperatures across the region to new highs.

Such was the case in Cheltenham, about 95 miles northwest of London, when a high temperature of 37.1 degrees Celsius (98.78 degrees F) was recorded on Aug. 3, breaking the previous record of 36.7 degrees C established on Aug. 9, 1911 in Raunds, Northamptonshire, Epsom, Surrey, and Canterbury, Kent.

According to a U.K. Met Office description of the heat wave, “the first four days of August saw a degree and spatial spread of high temperatures that topped any other hot spell in the twentieth century.”

“The most significant repercussions will be seen in our extreme weather, with heat waves becoming more regular and powerful, rainfall increasing heavier and bleaching coral around the world, and arctic ice melting. We can see the results of our actions “Hawkins remarked.

AccuWeather has provided this information. Dr. Katherine Haxton crocheted the temperature blanket. (Katherine Haxton, Ph.D.)

Haxton pondered on that summer, when she was roughly 11 years old and still in elementary school. While there will be a few more chilly years ahead, warmer years were always on the way.

“I think one of the things that really struck me was that I wasn’t really using the warm colors too much early on with the striped blanket,” she explained. “All of the hues were average or slightly above average. Then, all of a sudden, the darker, hotter hues begin to show.”

The next time the UK’s annual average temperature varied that much, it wouldn’t be a 40-year gap like before, but a 10-year gap, which would recur in 1999. Since 1999, the purple thread lines have reappeared five years after the last one.

The calendar year “I remember being in London because I had an industrial placement in 2000, and it was an extremely, really hot year,” Haxton said. “It wasn’t just a matter of being further south. Summer was scorching hot, I recall. I don’t recall seeing much rain. I simply recall being overheated all of the time, which is a feat in England.”

The hottest years in the blanket’s 40 years of data were almost all in the last 20, if not the last 10, years. The last year without a light or dark purple was 2013, which was a dark blue year.

“Looking at the data was a little depressing,” Haxton remarked.

Her most recent effort consists of six knitted hexagons, one for each month of the year 2021. They are shaped like tree rings, with the centermost piece denoting the average temperature in degrees Celsius for the month prior to the Industrial Revolution. Each line, radiating outward, represents a day of that month, with the color determined by the temperature measured at 3 p.m. local time at the Met Office Weather Observation’s Audley location, south of Manchester.

The light pink thread signifies cooler temperatures, but the colors it depicts move upward in the color spectrum as the temperatures rise.

Yellow and orange rings extend from a green center in the June hexagon, which stands out in particular.

“This is not something that will occur in the near future. It’s already taking place right now “Hawkins, a climate scientist at the University of Reading’s National Center for Atmospheric Science, said. “It’s something we’ll have to get used to, and the repercussions will only get worse as long as we continue to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.”

He cautioned that, while the stripes will “undoubtedly” darken in the future years as a result of change taking time, it is still not too late.

“We have to be optimistic about the future since we are the ones who have produced these climate changes,” Hawkins added. “That is due to our acts, which is a hopeful message in that it suggests that our actions will influence what happens next. It is our decisions as a global society that will define how dark the stripes will become in the future and how high global temperatures will rise.”

He urged governments to set the proper course, allowing people to progress toward net-zero emissions, or the point at which we can remove as much carbon from the environment as we put in. Because, while repairing global temperatures would require more global cooperation than unraveling a stitch, we still have time to decide on the next colors for our world’s tapestry.

Bill Wadell contributed additional reporting.

Want ad-free, next-level security? When you upgrade to Premium+ on the AccuWeather app, you’ll have access to sophisticated, hyperlocal severe weather notifications. Our skilled meteorologists issue AccuWeather AlertsTM to keep you and your family safe by monitoring and analyzing harmful weather threats 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.