Experiment 3:  Interview your grandparents, or a long-time neighbor

Our grandparents and elders have a wealth of knowledge about how things used to be. They have seen a lot of change in their lives, including changes in the weather and climate in Montana. In this backyard experiment, we provide the materials needed to interview your grandparents or an elder by asking them about the effects of climate change that they have observed in their lifetimes.

First, design your interview form so you can take your notes right on the form. Start your interview with general information, like where and when they were born, and how long they’ve lived where they live now.

Questions to Ask during Your Interview

Are there particular activities they enjoy that would have led them to be extra-observant about weather and climate, like farming, gardening, hunting and fishing, skiing and snowmobiling, or other kinds of outdoor recreation? What kinds of changes have they seen?

Ask them about increases/decreases and other changes they have observed in things like:

  • The number of extremely hot days (greater than 90 degrees F.) or the number of extremely cold days (less than 0 degrees F.) each year, on average, a long time ago compared with the last decade
  • Changes in rainfall and snowfall over time
  • Changes in extreme weather: heat waves, drought, floods, extreme summer and winter storms
  • Changes in seasonal patterns: the arrival of spring, the first frost of the year, freeze-thaw cycles, fire seasons, date of high water, and other things you want to know about. Have they seen these changes in the valleys, the mountains, forests, or other types of environments?
  • Changes in wildlife observations: are there more or fewer animals – what species, in what places, at what times of year?  Birds and other animals that may migrate, like elk or antelope, or snow geese and bluebirds, are particularly interesting to think about when it comes to long-term cycles and patterns.
  • Changes in natural features, like river and lake levels, snow cover, glaciers, frozen ground, and river and lake ice.

Ask them if they have seen these changes directly affect the things they care about, and if so, in what ways?

For example, have they seen changes in Montana's climate affect the industries and economy of their area – things like crop and animal production, forestry, hunting, transportation, real estate, recreation? What do they think has caused these changes, and what do they think we can do about them?

Writing Up Your Interview

After your interview is over, write up their story and share it with your friends, your family, and even post it on this website.

Some tips:

  • be specific (for example, it’s better to say, “the first frost comes in late September instead of early September now,” instead of “frost comes earlier now.”);
  • include anecdotes (specific stories or examples your grandparents or elder might tell you);
  • use vivid descriptions and even direct quotes that really help illustrate the changes you’re hearing about.
  • Finally, always thank your interview subject, and most importantly, have fun!
Photo at top of page: iStock.