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Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images

4 Ways to Become a Weather Forecaster From Your Backyard

Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images
Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images

Have you ever stared at your weather app in frustration because it’s showing current weather for somewhere dozens of miles from where you live? You’re not alone. Most of us live pretty far from official weather observing stations, which are usually located at airports or National Weather Service offices scattered around the country. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to become an amateur scientist using the smartphone in your pocket or dedicating a tiny part of your yard to science.

1. REPORT WHAT’S HAPPENING TO METEOROLOGISTS.

Snow and ice reports during a winter storm. Image Credit: mPing/NOAA

 
Weather radar is arguably the best piece of technology we have to predict bad storms, but even this advanced life-saving equipment has its limitations. The greatest restraint is that radar can’t see what precipitation reaches the ground. That’s because a radar dish sends out a beam of energy on a slight angle, and combined with the curvature of the earth, the beam climbs higher off the ground the farther away from the dish it travels.

Since the radar can only see what’s happening a few thousand feet above our heads, mPing is an app that lets you help meteorologists “see” what kind of weather is actually reaching the ground. This free app, available for Apple and Android, lets you use your phone’s location feature to report current conditions to meteorologists in real time. If it starts snowing, filing a report with your mPing app will tell meteorologists when snow showing up on the radar is actually reaching the streets. Alerting them if snow changes to freezing rain will help others by allowing scientists to adjust warnings and forecasts accordingly. You can even report tornadoes, hail, and wind damage.

One little app can let you help advance the science of meteorology, and your reports many even help save lives during a severe weather event. 

2. BECOME PART OF A NETWORK OF CITIZEN-RUN WEATHER STATIONS.

Rainfall totals for November 29, 2016, measured by participants in the CoCoRaHS network. Image Credit: CoCoRaHS

 
Having official weather reporting stations spaced out by dozens of miles across the country is fine for tracking temperature trends or overall wind patterns, but it’s not very useful when you want to keep track of heavy rain or heavy snow. Precipitation is extremely localized—we’ve all seen one of those thunderstorms where it’s raining down the street but bone dry where you’re standing. It helps to have lots of high-quality measuring stations to track storms like that.

That's where CoCoRaHS comes in. Short for Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, and Snow Network, CoCoRaHS is a network of thousands of citizen-run weather observing stations across the United States, Canada, and the Bahamas. Participants in the CoCoRaHS network use official rain gauges and snow rulers to measure precipitation right in their backyard. These gauges are immensely helpful for meteorologists trying to figure out how much snow fell in a certain town or how much rain has fallen over certain areas—a crucial factor in determining how prone an area is to flash flooding in future storms.

Participating in CoCoRaHS isn’t free—you have to purchase an official rain gauge, which costs about $30—but it’s worth it if you’re dedicated to keeping track of the weather for yourself and your neighbors.

3. SET UP A PERSONAL WEATHER STATION.

If you’re really interested in the weather, you can go one step further and purchase your own personal weather station to set up on your property. Most decent personal weather stations go for about $100 and can measure temperature, dew point, wind speed and direction, and automatically measure rainfall. Some personal weather stations allow you to upload the data to the internet in real-time, which is immensely helpful for networks run by organizations like Wunderground and Weatherbug.

The only catch is that you have to have a yard large enough to properly site a weather station. If the station is too close to a building, trees, or fencing, the obstructions will interfere with your measurements and the data won’t be accurate.

4. VOLUNTEER WITH SKYWARN.

If you’ve ever heard reports of severe weather on the news talking about a “trained spotter,” they’re talking about one of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who have participated in official storm spotter training. SKYWARN is the official weather spotter training program run by the National Weather Service (NWS). The program is a short, free course run by local NWS offices several times every year. It teaches you the basics of spotting severe and hazardous weather, and properly reporting that weather back to the NWS.

SKYWARN spotters are a critical part of the early warning system in the United States. Accurate reports of tornadoes, damaging winds, hail, and flooding sent to the NWS by trained storm spotters have helped meteorologists issue severe weather warnings with enough time to save lives. The program is worth it even if you don’t plan to go out chasing storms on the Plains—severe weather can happen anywhere, and knowing the difference between a harmless cloud and a lethal tornado could save someone’s life.

If you want to participate in SKYWARN training, keep an eye out for announcements from your local NWS office for training days. You can also participate in free online SKYWARN training through the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which runs a treasure trove of online learning modules for everyone from weather enthusiasts to meteorologists brushing up on advanced topics.

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Even in Real Time, the Northern Lights Look Like a Beautiful Timelapse Video
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Nothing compares to seeing the Northern Lights in person, but this video shared by The Kid Should See This is a pretty decent substitute. Though it may look like a timelapse, the footage hasn’t been altered or sped up at all. The undulating green lights you see below are what the aurora borealis looks like in real time.

Astro-photographer Kwon O Chul captured the footage of the meteorological phenomenon in Canada’s Northwest Territories in March 2013. The setting, the Aurora Village in Yellowknife, is a popular destination for tourists coming to see the Northern Lights up close. In the video, you can see how the camp’s glowing teepees complement the colorful ribbon of lights above.

Even if you plan your Northern Lights sightseeing trip perfectly, it’s impossible to guarantee that you’ll get a clear view of the aurora borealis on any given night, since factors like solar activity and weather conditions affect the light show’s visibility. But if you want to know what to expect when the lights are at their peak, take a look at the clip below.

You can check out more of Kwon O Chul's photography on Facebook.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Alaska Got 15 Inches of Snow in 90 Minutes Last Week
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Alaska is obviously no stranger to snow, but this month's white weather will likely go down in the state's record books. As The Weather Channel reports, Thompson Pass—a 2805-foot-high area in Alaska’s Chugach Mountains—received a whopping 15 inches of powder in just 90 minutes on Wednesday, December 6.

Thompson Pass sits just outside of Valdez, a tiny port city on Alaska’s south coast. Located along the Gulf of Alaska, Valdez is perhaps best known for the infamous 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and for its rich Gold Rush history. Today, it’s important for commerce, since it’s the northernmost ice-free port in North America. But ice-free doesn't mean blizzard-free: The city is regularly cited as one of the snowiest places in the U.S., if not the snowiest. On average, locals can expect to see (and smell) 300 or more inches of frozen precipitation per year. As for Thompson Pass, it very often receives more than 700 inches of the wet stuff in a year.

Still, Mother Nature truly outdid herself on December 6, when Thompson Pass was slammed with what weather historian Christopher Burt deemed to be one of modern history’s most intense snowfalls. By the storm’s end, 40 inches of heavy snow had accumulated in just 12 hours, according to The Washington Post.

Who angered the winter weather gods? Or, more scientifically speaking, which atmospheric conditions led to the storm? According to experts, a stream of warm water vapor from the Pacific Ocean hit Alaska’s coast, traveling through an aerial channel known as an “atmospheric river.” When atmospheric rivers hit land, they release this water vapor as either rain or snow, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Intensifying the phenomenon was the North American Winter Dipole, which The Washington Post’s Jason Samenow described as a “fancy term to describe abnormally warm conditions in the West and cold conditions in the East.”

"Under such a pattern, the jet stream, the super highway for storms that divides cold and warm air, surges north in the western half of the nation, and crashes south in the eastern half,” Samenow said.

Valdez residents are accustomed to snow, but last week's storm was particularly challenging for townspeople. An avalanche buried Richardson Highway, the city’s only overland route that leads in and out of town. It reopened on Thursday, December 7, according to The Cordova Times, but driving conditions were poor.

While extreme, the Thompson Pass blizzard might not be history's weirdest snowfall. For example, arid countries like Kuwait and Iraq have experienced snow. In January 1887, 15-inch snowflakes were reportedly spotted at Montana’s Fort Keogh. And in 1921, over six feet of snow fell between April 14 and April 15 in Silver Lake, Colorado—the most snow to ever fall in a 24-hour period in the U.S.

[h/t The Weather Channel]

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