A great example of how the WeatherBug Network could have helped in a severe weather situation occurred in 2004 when a weather front moved through Baltimore and caused a water taxi to be overturned, killing several people. The WeatherBug network was picking up information about the storm containing high wind gusts well before anything happened at the Inner Harbor. Much of our WeatherBug Protect (protect.weatherbug.com) system was designed as a result of this storm happening in an attempt to get more instantaneous information out to people in severe weather.
Many people are most likely familiar with the term Doppler Radar. Could you explain what this is and what other technologies play a major part in determining a weather forecast?
Doppler radar is much like the radar used by police to see how fast you are going. Wikipedia has a great explanation of how it works ( Weather radar ), but basically it can detect the precipitation particles in the air as well as the speed and direction at which they are moving. By plotting the speed and direction of the particles, meteorologists can tell a lot more about how fast winds are moving, even the size of the particles in the air. They can tell the difference between rain and hail. One of the best known experts on Doppler radar is Dr. Josh Wurman ( National Storm Chaser Convention 2008 ). He actually stopped by WeatherBug one time and talked with us in detail about his Doppler on Wheels program and the intricate aspects of how radar works and some of the advances in the technology. He is also the guy you see on Discovery Channel in the armored vehicle chasing tornado’s.
As far as other technologies go…satellites now provide a huge advantage to forecasters and forecast modelers. Satellites provide volumes of observation by measuring temperatures and wind speeds at many levels of the atmosphere. These observations play a significant role in forecast modeling. This data can then be used to initialize forecast models with data that is more representative of the current state of the atmosphere. Satellite and airplane data has been a huge factor in the improvement of hurricane forecasting and modeling.
Ground based wind profilers provide similar data as satellites but from ground based locations. Profilers are an array of sensors that provide a cross section of atmospheric data by detecting upward from the ground.
Can you help give my readers a bit of a history lesson in regards to how forecast technology has improved over the years? How much of a role have technology advancements played in getting warnings out faster and more efficiently?
Much of this has been covered, but to reiterate, computer speed, efficiency and accuracy has lead the way in forecast technology advancements. More powerful, faster computers allow more applications to be built that can process and display data. Having more data allows forecasters to make a more comprehensive accurate decision. Computers and computer programs allow for fast processing and dissemination of this information out to the end users.
Before the Internet, you had to tune in the radio or TV to get a forecast and then you would have to wait for a newscast. Now, you can get a forecast anytime of the day or night. Accessibility to forecast information via the Internet has helped people stay much more informed with ever changing forecasts and weather events. WeatherBug’s desktop application is a prime example. The user does not even have to be aware of what is going on outside and still know that if severe weather causes a weather alert, they will be informed.