What? Where? When? Why? Weather!
Given the impact of weather on our daily activities, moods, and clothing, it's no wonder so much attention is given to its prediction. The government, businesses, media, and technology companies all put significant effort into weather forecasting, and their work is especially vital when severe storms with potentially devastating results are looming.
In the following pages, we help familiarize you with many of the resources available including the best weather websites and apps. We also take you behind the scenes at the National Weather Service, give tips on how to prepare for extreme weather, and share a bit of history about weather forecasting.
On a lighter note, we've gathered fun weather-related content. It includes things to do on a rainy day, weatherthemed songs, an explanation of how TV weather maps and videos work, movies where weather plays a supporting role, and reasons why talking about the weather doesn't have to be boring. Be sure to check out the fascinating Fast Fact trivia — all about remarkable weather conditions — from National Geographic.
No matter if you're headed to the beach or headed for a walk in the snow, we've got you covered.
FAST FACT: About 2,000 thunderstorms rain down on Earth every minute.
Source for all FAST FACT trivia in this article: www.natgeokids.com/za/discover/geography/physical-geography/30-freaky-facts-about-weather
A Brief History of Modern Weather Forecasting
While people have attempted to predict the weather for millennia, modern forecasting didn't begin until the 19th century. The invention of the electric telegraph allowed forecasters to quickly get information about conditions upwind, making it possible to know what was coming their way.
Manual and Computer Prediction
Two British men, Francis Beaufort and Robert FitzRoy, are credited with establishing weather forecasting as an actual science. Beaufort developed the Wind Force Scale, which numerically describes the severity of storms. FitzRoy established prediction charts and land stations that would telegraph weather conditions to him, enabling him to develop daily weather forecasts.
In the early 20th century, advances in atmospheric physics led to the development of numerical prediction, which uses mathematical models to predict weather. This method required so many calculations that it wasn't until the 1950s, when computers became available, that the method was put to regular use. The first computerized weather forecast was performed by an American team of meteorologists.
Weather forecasts began to be published in The Times of London in 1861. In the U.S., weather forecasts were initially made over the radio in 1925. The first televised forecasts were broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 1936 and in the U.S. in the 1940s. TV weather forecasts with on-screen weather satellite information and computer graphics began in the late 1970s.
Now, of course, weather forecasts are as easy to get as a few simple taps on your computer or phone.
For a more detailed look at the history of weather forecasting, check out the time line at timemapper.okfnlabs.org/manunicast/history-of-weather-forecasting#0.
Behind the Scenes With Green Screens
When you watch weather reports on TV, you typically see the weather person standing in front of an image that shows temperatures, weather graphics, and storm movement. You're probably aware that all of this weather magic is done using a technology called green screen, which is also used in movie development. But exactly how does a green screen (also known as a chroma key) work?
It starts with a green fabric or paint background. The image — which can be a static photo, a video, or any other graphic — is projected onto the screen by a computer connected to the TV camera. The computer has instructions to project onto anything green, so that's why the image doesn't show up on the person (unless they're wearing something green).
Because the weather person is still seeing just a green screen, they must look at a nearby monitor to know where to point when showing you an approaching storm or temperatures in a certain city.
FAST FACT: Lightning often follows a volcanic eruption.
The NWS Works 24/7 to Keep America Informed
Weather is important to U.S. citizens for many reasons, which is why it makes sense to have a national service dedicated to it. The National Weather Service (NWS) is exactly that. Its mission is to "provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy."
Billions of Observations
Active for over a century, the NWS is headquartered in Silver Spring, Md., and has offices in areas across the U.S. and its territories. Local Weather Forecast offices are responsible for issuing advisories, warnings, statements, and short-term forecasts for their local areas to help people make smart decisions. River Forecast Centers are particularly critical in creating timely flood warnings and river forecasts to keep people and property safe.
Employees work around the clock to share the most accurate forecasts for the use of states, counties, businesses, and individuals. According to the NWS website, "The NWS collects and analyzes more than 76 billion observations and releases about 1.5 million forecasts and 50,000 warnings each year." Forecasters use a variety of methods to collect data including surface stations, weather balloons, and satellites.
Critical Information for All
The NWS also includes the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), which produces analysis, guidance, forecasts, and warnings, and includes nine subcenters that focus on aviation, hurricanes, space weather, and other specialties.
NWS information is shared with other governmental agencies, as well as companies, individuals, and entities across the world.
For more on the National Weather Service, visit its website at weather.gov.
FAST FACT: The coldest temperature ever officially recorded was -128.6°F.
How to Have Fun on a Rainy Day
Don't let rain spoil your day. Sure, you may not be able to get to enjoy the outdoor activities you had planned, but there's still plenty to do inside:
- Play board games. Get out Monopoly, Sorry, Clue, or any other old-school board games you have around. Make some snacks, get comfortable, and invite the whole family to play.
- Have a spa day. Treat yourself to a relaxing bubble bath, foot scrub, facial, or manicure.
- Get baking. Whip up something that will make the whole house smell delicious like chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes, or bread.
- Go "camping" with the kids. Some of the things you love about camping can be done indoors like making s'mores, telling ghost stories, and pitching a tent.
- Catch up on your reading. Whether it's news articles or that novel you never seem to have time for, bad weather creates a good opportunity for a long, guilt-free reading session in your favorite comfy chair.
If you don't feel like doing anything, a rainy day can also be the perfect time for a nap. The sound and smell of rain can be soothing and make us feel sleepy.
Plan Ahead for Mother Nature's Wrath
A bad weather day can do much more than ruin your plans. It can damage your property and community, and even put your life at risk. Depending on where you live, some types of severe weather are more probable than others, so it makes sense to know the likeliest scenarios. Here are some tips to help you be prepared:
Understand the signs of a tornado such as a funnel-shaped cloud or loud roar that sounds like a freight train. Know where to go to protect yourself from flying debris whether you're in your own home, out in the community, or in your car driving. After the storm, avoid fallen power or utility lines and only enter affected buildings when you know they're safe.
If your area is prone to flooding, consider purchasing flood insurance. Have a bag of supplies ready to go in case you have to leave your home in a hurry, and always follow evacuation instructions. If trapped, get to the highest level possible in the building you're in. After the storm, turn off the power to avoid electric shock.
Thunderstorms and Lightning
Prior to a storm, buy equipment to protect your home's electronic appliances and devices. If you're outside when a storm starts, don't take any chances; go indoors. If you're away from home, find the nearest sturdy building or, as a last resort, car. Afterward, wait to go outside until you get the all-clear from authorities. Find more information about severe weather preparedness at ready.gov/severe-weather.
FAST FACT: Wildfires sometimes create tornadoes made of fire called fire whirls.
Weather Plays a Supporting Role in These Movies
Pick a stormy day, or any day, to watch these weather-themed movies:
Ice Age – In this animated movie that's appropriate for the whole family, three ice age animals work together to return a baby human to his tribe.
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs – Another good one to watch with the kids, this animated movie follows the two main characters as they try to figure out why food is falling from the sky.
The Ice Storm – Talented stars Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver are featured in this compelling drama about a wealthy Connecticut family.
Sharknado – Yes, you read right. It's a storm full of sharks, and it's heading for Los Angeles, where a group of friends tries to avoid its destruction.
The Wizard of Oz – Worth seeing again, this classic involves a tornado that transports farm girl Dorothy Gale to a land of yellow brick roads, singing munchkins, and flying monkeys.
The Perfect Storm – Based on the true story of a fishing boat hit by the combination of a hurricane from Bermuda and a cold front from the Great Lakes.
Know Before You Go With These Weather Websites
Getting a weather report is easy. Deciding where to get it can be tricky, with so many good weather resources available. Here are a few to try.
The Weather Channel
The Weather Channel is a great resource for all things weather related. Get a forecast for the next few hours, the next few days, or even monthly predictions. Read about severe weather including alerts. Check out the Maps section with its Weather in Motion maps — just like the ones weather people on TV use.
This site offers weather based not just on your city, but on your exact location, using a network of weather sensors. Save other locations as well, such as places you travel to frequently, or to see what kind of weather distant friends or family are getting. Visit wunderground.com/ intellicast for interactive weather maps.
Count on Weather Bug to give you all the weather information you need in a clean interface. Click the arrow on any of the sections to get an expanded view of the forecast, live radar, air quality, and more. You can also read the top stories about weather events in the U.S. and around the world.
If you like weather graphics, you'll love this site. It shows a world map that you can zoom in or out, and gives you a whole list of weather patterns to display. You can view temperature, precipitation, clouds, wind speed, air pressure, snow cover, and more. See predicted conditions over the next few hours or days.
FAST FACT: A mudslide can carry rocks, trees, vehicles, and entire buildings.
Singin' in the Rain… and the Sun and the Wind
Given that weather has such a strong impact on our lives, it's no wonder many musicians have written and recorded songs about it.
Rain is a popular topic, with tunes ranging from Prince's emotional "Purple Rain," to Gene Kelly's classic "Singin' in the Rain," to The Weather Girls' campy "It's Raining Men."
The sun is also featured frequently, such as in Katrina and the Waves' upbeat "Walking on Sunshine," the Beatles' optimistic "Here Comes the Sun," and Stevie Wonder's beautiful "You Are the Sunshine of My Life." Closely related is the subject of heat, with Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" and Bananarama's "Cruel Summer."
Honoring the wind, several artists in the 1960s recorded Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind," while Kansas put out "Dust in the Wind" in 1978, and Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band followed with "Against the Wind" in 1980.
These titles are just the tip of the iceberg. You'll find a long list of weatherthemed songs at www.songfacts.com/category/songs-with-weatherconditions-in-the-title.
Keep Forecasts at Your Fingertips With These Great Apps
Most of the weather websites featured previously have smartphone apps as well. Here are some more to consider:
If you do a Google search for weather on your phone, you'll get the information presented in an app-like format, with an option to pin it to your home screen to use again. Scroll down for additional details like hour-by-hour temperature, precipitation, and wind. Scroll right to get the forecast for the next 10 days.
Live alerts and weather forecasts help you plan your day. In addition to a regular weather forecast, you'll get storm alerts, updates, and the "RealFeel" temperature to warn you about those beautiful and sunny — but c-c-cold — days. Check the weather up to 15 days in advance for anywhere in the world.
Attractive graphics make this weather app fun to look at, and you can choose widgets in three different sizes as well as your own layout and colors. In addition to its friendly appearance, the app will keep you informed about the weather and other related information, such as the moon phase and sun status.
What The Forecast?
This whimsical weather app offers standard weather forecasts along with accompanying quips that explain, in real terms, how nasty it is outside. Here's an example: "Rain is the only way today could get any worse. Oh wait." This app won a 2018 People's Choice Webby Award in the category of Mobile Sites & Apps – Services & Utilities.
5 Great Reasons to Talk About the Weather
People often make fun of weather as a dull discussion topic, but there are several good reasons not to dismiss this subject as a conversation starter:
- It's something everyone shares. No matter who you are, the weather affects you in some way, and you probably have an opinion about it.
- It can establish commonality. Maybe you and your conversation partner both detest humidity. Now you've found common ground.
- It can lead to additional topics. If you and the person you're chatting with both had your gardens destroyed by hail, you can seamlessly shift from weather to gardening.
- It's a good place to start. When you just want to connect, go ahead and comment to the person next to you in line about the wonderful (or dreadful) weather outside.
- It's a way to establish interest. At the very least, you'll get a grunt or a nonresponse, letting you know to take your small talk elsewhere.
FAST FACT: Waterspouts (rotating columns of air over water) can make sea creatures rain down from the sky.