NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2007
Online Weather Resources May Be Lifesavers
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)

http://www.nhc.noaa.gov - National Hurricane Center
http://www.weather.gov - National Weather Service
http://www.weather.com - Weather Channel
http://www.beaumontweather.com - My non-commercial weather site
http://widgets.yahoo.com/gallery/?search=weather - Yahoo! weather widgets
http://widgets.yahoo.com/gallery/view.php?widget=39762 - Texas Weather Radar Widget
http://widgets.yahoo.com/gallery/?search=weather+radar - Yahoo! Weather Radar Widgets for other areas

We just learned a valuable lesson from the hit we took recently from Hurricane Humberto. At 8am on a Wednesday, a local TV weatherman was saying that the clouds in the Gulf would not amount to anything. At 10am, the National Hurricane Center (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov) announced that it was Tropical Depression 9, and we were put under a tropical storm warning. At 1pm, the National Hurricane Center announced that it was Tropical Storm Humberto. When it came ashore here in the wee hours of Thursday morning, it was a hurricane. According to Senior Hurricane Specialist James Franklin, of the National Hurricane Center,

"To put this development in perspective — no tropical cyclone in the historical record has ever reached this intensity at a faster rate near landfall. It would be nice to know, someday, why this happened."

Whether a tropical storm, hurricane, tornado, severe thunderstorm, or other major weather event, we need to be informed about what natural events may be threatening us. If we are kept informed, we may be better able to keep our families safe, and prepare for the potential event. Now that we are in the most active part of the hurricane season, and living on a coastal plain near the Gulf of Mexico, tropical weather is a major concern to me and others so situated. Arguably one of the best resources to keep track of tropical weather is the website of the National Hurricane Center at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov.

This site has what may be the most comprehensive information on tropical weather available. Its maps of projected storm tracks and wind fields are widely used by both the print and electronic media to show where the storms are likely to be going. A wealth of other information is freely available as well, including hurricane safety, radar and satellite images, free public news feeds available via RSS, and email alerts. Public advisories are posted in English and Spanish, and forecast advisories and discussions are posted as well. Data and graphics on this site are frequently updated, with typically a six hour schedule; when storms threaten land, updates are more frequent, typically on a three hour cycle. This excellent service, along with its poignant graphics of current storm locations and projected storm tracks, has rendered the archaic paper hurricane tracking charts which required manual updating obsolete.

The “granddaddy” of weather sites is the National Weather Service at weather.gov. The heart of the site is an interactive weather map where clicking on the map will open up a localized web page displaying the desired information. Tabs on the top of the map will display other maps showing warnings and forecasts, graphical forecasts, a traditional national weather map, radar images, detailed water and flood information, air quality, satellite images, and climate information. By entering a city and state in the search box on the page, detailed local weather information will be displayed including a “7-Day” forecast, and other comprehensive information.

There are many fine commercial weather sites online from a variety of sources, such as the Weather Underground, and the Weather Channel. The Weather Channel obtained the valuable domain name weather.com where it posts detailed weather information. Hyperlinked topics available include weather news, travel weather, driving and traffic reports, healthy living, home and family, sports and recreation, and information about the Weather Channel. At the top of the page, comprehensive local weather can be displayed by entering a city or zipcode. The local page shows the current temperature and heat index (or wind chill), weather videos, and a 36-hour forecast. Links lead to hourly weather forecasts, a 10-day forecast, and an air quality forecast.

In March of 1994, while the internet was in its infancy, there was no comprehensive local weather information for this Gulf region, so I created my own non-commercial weather page, the Golden Triangle Weather Page at http://www.beaumontweather.com. During most of the year it displays local weather information, current satellite and radar images of the area, and regional and national weather maps. Without a lot of current interest in weather topics, it only gets a few hundred hits per day. During hurricane season however, the number of hits on the site skyrocket, getting as many as 60,000 hits per day. I created a template where I can quickly add contemporary tropical storm and hurricane information to the site utilizing public domain resources. The template includes the latest tracks and predictions from the National Hurricane Center, textual reports and predictions, wind charts, and two other features not commonly found on tropical weather pages. One of the unusual items on my weather site during hurricane season, and only displayed when there is tropical activity, is a highly detailed tracking and prediction chart from the U.S. Navy’s Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Center in Norfolk, Virginia. This Navy chart differs from others because of its detail, and includes a display of the projected width of storm winds, as well as charts predicting wind speed and times, and “CPA” (closest point of approach) showing how close the center of the storm will pass from selected cities. Another unusual feature included on my page when storms are active is what is known in meteorology circles as a “spaghetti map”, which shows the individual and often different predicted storm tracks using 15 different prediction models. This is what the media refers to when they talk about the models showing projected storm paths.

Some people would like real-time weather alerts if storms threaten, and would like to see current local weather radar such that they can better plan their day. Yahoo! offers thousands of free “widgets” which are computer desktop graphical displays that are frequently updated. Some widgets simply display current local weather conditions in a variety of formats. Others only display weather alerts and bulletins for selected cities or zipcodes. One that I have on my desktop full time is the “Texas Doppler” radar widget (widgets.yahoo.com/gallery/view.php?widget=39762) which can selectively display the weather radar from dozens of Texas TV stations. I have the weather radar from one of my local TV stations displayed, which automatically updates every few minutes. There is also an option to animate the radar display to show the movement of storms. Similar displays are available for other states and countries as well. Weather is something that we all must deal with. The internet is a great way to keep up with it and try to keep our families safe.

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