NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, June 2009
Online Resources for Hurricane Information
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

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In just a few days we will be entering the 2009 hurricane season. The horrendous 2008 season, where locally we suffered the devastation of Ike is still fresh in our memory, and the blue roofs in the area remind us of the disaster on a daily basis. A little over three years ago we suffered the double calamities of Katrina and Rita, and the havoc they wreaked locally. While we cannot prevent being struck by hurricanes, we can have access to timely and accurate information that we may use to prepare and make decisions that could literally impact our lives. Fortunately for us, the internet has become one of the primary sources of information, providing the latest in timely and comprehensive information.

One of the most widely used and respected sources of hurricane information is the National Hurricane Center (NHC) at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov. The NHC is the official federal government source of hurricane information, and has a plethora of information, graphics, maps, and other helpful information. While there are several private weather services that employ staffs of professional meteorologists, much of the raw data analyzed and prognosticated by these private organizations comes from the NHC, as the NHC is the source of satellite and radar imagery, aircraft reconnaissance, hurricane predictions and mapping, and other valuable resources. All of these technical resources can be accessed publicly at the NHC website. The NHC is the source of the hurricane advisories and warnings, all of which can be monitored in real time on the NHC website. Not just is the NHC information available on the website, but it is also available by RSS feed to any news reader, and as emails sent as soon as revised or updated information becomes available. For those who prefer audio over visual hurricane news, the NHC also pushes the information via audio and podcasts. The NHC possibly has the single most comprehensive data available on hurricanes and other tropical weather. This would be a good primary site, well worth book marking, for the absolute latest in hurricane information.

The companion site with coordinated information about all national weather, including hurricane and tropical information, is the National Weather Service (NWS) website at http://www.weather.gov. Weather.gov has a tabbed header which will display specialized information. The tabs are Warnings & Forecasts, Graphical Forecasts, National Maps, Radar, Water, Air Quality, Satellite, and Climate. Each of the displays is interactive, and clicking on any spot on the maps displayed will open up the local information for that spot. Detailed local weather information can also be found by entering a city and state in the search box in the top-left corner of the NWS webpage. I would suggest going to weather.gov, and entering your city and state in the search box (top-left corner), and then book marking your local weather. Opening that bookmark at any time will present the user with the latest comprehensive local weather information.

For those who prefer a private commercial resource rather than a governmental source, weather.com is a leading weather information website. During hurricane season, weather.com incorporates publicly available information with its own staff of professional meteorologists who make their own hurricane forecasts; these forecasts may agree or disagree with the official government forecasts, but provide a credible alternative. Weather.com is affiliated with the cable Weather Channel, and has comprehensive private resources which supplement those of the NWS and NHC. Weather.com also offers detailed local weather by entering a city and state in the search box at the top of the web page. Weather.com also offers users the ability to customize their own weather page based on city or zip code, and display individually selected features, such as pollen levels, cold and flu reports, airport delays, highway conditions, and other specialized local information.

One of my personal favorite resources for hurricane information and maps is the U.S. Navy’s Naval Maritime Forecast Center, in Norfolk, Virginia (http://www.nlmoc.navy.mil/cgi-bin/main.pl?tropical). This site has an unclassified section on tropical weather that is very technical, but possibly has the best hurricane tracking and prediction map available. The information on the map is primarily from the NHC, but graphically shows the diameter and strength of the wind fields, as well as a chart showing the time and distance of the “Closest Point of Approach” (CPA), which are cities potentially in the path of the storm. Another chart on the map shows projected storm strength at different times in the future. For those who want a highly detailed tracking and projection map, this is the place to go.

Southeast Texas has been lucky to have some community spirited individuals create highly localized hurricane and related disaster information. One local site that is very popular is Network Centric Solutions’ storm site at storm.ncsworks.com, headed “South East Texas Edition – Jefferson, Hardin, Orange”. This site may possibly have the most comprehensive local information regarding hurricane and other disaster information. One cute feature of this site is the ability to send information directly to compatible cell phones. The website has an interactive local weather map based on Microsoft’s Virtual Earth, an animated weather map from AccuWeather, local weather conditions from the Weather Channel, and a variety of other resources. On the site are links to local traffic cameras, the Entergy Power Outage Map, evacuation route traffic cameras, a household storm preparation guide, and other helpful pre- and post-storm information. This information can also be sent as “tweets” to Twitter users, be found on Facebook, and blogged at setxstorm.blogspot.com. Network Centric Solutions and its webmaster, Desi Ramsey, should be commended for the excellent service this website provides the community.

One of the best kept secrets in southeast Texas is what may be the oldest local weather page still operating (since March, 1994). That is my weather page, the “Golden Triangle Weather Page” at http://www.beaumontweather.com. During hurricane season I load my hurricane template which includes hurricane real-time statements from the NHC, and a variety of storm projections from the NHC and the U.S. Navy. My weather page in non-commercial (no commercial advertising), and still gets millions of hits. I joke that my weather page is run by an all volunteer committee of one.

With hurricane season fast approaching, now is a good time to become aware of what is available online, and bookmark those of interest. The preparation information should be reviewed, and plans made now in the event of another major storm. This information can literally be a lifesaver. Take advantage of it now while there is still time.

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