It’s been a while since I’ve discussed weather-related websites, and I figured it was about time to share one of my favourites — The Weather Underground (www.wunderground.com).
The Weather Underground is literally the first-ever Internet weather website, and I think it’s the best weather website out there. I figured the best way to introduce you to this site was to provide you with a bit of background on it, so the following two paragraphs have been taken directly from their “About Us” page.
“In 1991, while working under the direction of Perry Samson at the University of Michigan, PhD candidate Jeff Masters wrote a menu-based telnet interface which displayed real-time weather information around the world. By 1992, the two servers his system used were rattling off their desks as ‘um-weather’ became the most popular service on the Internet. In 1993, Perry and Jeff recruited Jeff Ferguson and Alan Steremberg to help build a system to bring Internet weather into K-12 classrooms. Chris Schwerzler joined Alan in his work on the Mac gopher client, ‘Blue Skies,’ which won numerous awards for its interactive imagery and text information. In the interest of expanding ‘Blue Skies’ to other platforms, Dave Brooks, author of the Windows ‘WS Gopher’ client, developed ‘Blue Skies for Windows’ in 1994. The growing Internet weather program was given the name Weather Underground, a reference to the 1960’s radical group that also originated at the University of Michigan, which had taken its name from the lyrics to Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, ‘You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows.’
“In late spring of 1995, Weather Underground, Inc. evolved as a separate commercial entity from the university. By fall, the official website, www.wunderground.com, was released with daily forecasts and hourly conditions. Weather Underground has developed the world’s largest network of personal weather stations (almost 23,000 stations in the U.S. and over 13,000 across the rest of the world) that provides the site’s users with the most localized weather conditions available. In 2008, they launched WunderMap, the web’s most interactive weather map, that allows users to choose from a number of different weather layers that are plotted on top of a dynamic map interface. Finally in July 2012, Weather Underground became part of The Weather Channel Companies.”
One of my favourite parts of this website is WunderMap. In particular, I really like to use the weather model layers. With a little background knowledge on how to interpret these maps, almost anyone can start to develop their own weather forecasts.
To find WunderMaps from the main Weather Underground web page you need to click on the Maps and Radar tab near the top of the page. From the drop-down list you then select WunderMaps. Those of you who have used Google Maps or Google Earth will recognize how to navigate around the map. Along with automatically loading the map of your region it will bring up two layers of information, current radar imagery and weather station data. The layers that are visible are controlled by the menus on the right-hand side of the screen. To turn on and off a layer you simply click on the checkmark located just to the left of the layer’s name.
To learn how to view and understand the weather model layers, the first thing you need to do is turn off the radar and weather station layers. You then need to click on the Model Data layer to turn it on. When you do this nothing on the map will change, but a new menu will open up under the layer name. Before you start to play around you will probably want to zoom out on the map so that you can see at least all of Alberta. The first option you have is to pick the weather model you want to look at. The GFS model is the weather model created by NOAA in the United States and the ECMWF is the weather model created by the United Kingdom. These models are both considered to be very good.
The next option to choose from is which weather model information you want displayed on the Map Type. While there are lots of different maps to choose from, here is a short list of the more useful maps.
- MSL — This map shows the surface pressure patterns along with where precipitation is forecasted to fall and how much precipitation is expected over a 12-hour period.
- 2mAG — This map shows the ground level forecasted air and dew point temperatures.
- Wind — This map shows expected wind speeds measured in knots (quick conversion is to double it for km). It also shows wind direction.
While there are many more maps to choose from, these three maps will allow you to create a fairly accurate forecast. I’ll continue this discussion in an upcoming issue. In the meantime, your homework is to check out this website and see if you can start to become a weather forecaster!