Editor’s note: Writing today’s Skinny and filling in for LTW Editor Rick Smith this week is Noah Garrett. You can reach Noah directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barometers, thermometers, the occasional hygrometer, an anemometer, and a rain gauge were once all the tools a meteorologist required. Boy, have things changed.
As the Atlantic begins its annual churn-and-burn hurricane festival, I would be remiss not to say something about the advances in technology from a meteorological viewpoint.
Born and raised in Virginia Beach, Va., and a resident of the Outer Banks of North Carolina for nearly a decade, I have seen my fair share of storms over the years. As Hanna approaches the coast this week, I find myself checking websites constantly to find weather updates and the latest scoop on the storm.
Being an avid surfer, this is what I do. It drives my wife crazy, but that’s just me.
By the way, a Hurricane Watch is effect as of Thursday morning from Surf City, N.C. southwestward to north of Edisto Beach, S.C. Hanna, although a small storm by many standards, is moving northwest and expected to pick up size and speed.
As a journalist who has covered several major hurricanes in northeast North Carolina, including Hurricanes Dennis, Floyd, Bertha and Isabel, I have to say, from a technology standpoint, it’s pretty dang incredible to see how far we have come in weather forecasting. Honestly, it saves lives. And, being the weather junkie that I am, it provides countless hours of information and entertainment.
For instance, in June of this year The Weather Channel launched programming from its new facility in pure High Definition format. "The Weather Channel revolutionized how weather was presented when we launched in 1982 and we are about to do that once again in 2008," said Ray Ban, executive vice president of programming and technology at The Weather Channel.
But that’s just for entertainment value. What about the actual gadgets and gizmos meteorologists are using to provide update weather forecasts and pin-point tracking – especially now that four hurricanes are knocking on North Carolina’s door?
Data and images from remote sensing systems such as instrumented balloons, radars, and satellites are now part of the array of tools that weather watchers use; computers to process and model atmospheric processes and make predictions from the vast array of data collected by a national network of observers and observation systems; internal communications systems to bring the data to processing computers and then send the processed information in the form of forecasts, maps, and even three-dimensional models back to weather information users and researchers; and mass media interfaces to bring the weather to television, radio, and the Internet.
Follow the technology tales of the Weather Service is fascinating to learn how these systems evolved and what it was like to observe the weather and obtain weather information 50 or 100 years ago. The overall concept hasn’t changed, but the rate at which data is collected and processed, the quality of the data, and the rates at which critical information can be transferred to the public and private interests has increased by quantum leaps over the years.
Shoot, you can even get weather updates on Twitter now for Hanna. Is that innovation or what?