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Trusting the Weather Report


Myself and three of my friends are leaving for a road trip this Spring Break; we had planned on heading up to Edmonton, Alberta to see an old friend. As I write this, we are leaving in about 12 hours for northern California and then east through Nevada, Utah, and up through Wyoming and Montana for this week-long expedition. Besides the high gas prices and the high prices of everything else in Canada, the final straw for us going south was the weather. With our recent snow, my friends and I couldn’t stand going north where it was bound to be colder and have even more snow. This led to many Internet weather checks to determine if we could get somewhere as warm as the upper 50s by Monday. Well we can’t stay here much longer or we all might develop an unnatural hatred for the color white, so we’re off.

This got me to thinking; four teenagers using the Internet weather services to decide which route would be the most pleasing. Even ten years ago this luxury might have been available, but it was hardly reliable. Go back ten more years and all you had for the weather was the local news and the paper; and I have heard too many jokes aimed towards weathermen to believe those were in any way reliable. So how has technology come so far in predicting the weather that we trust it as much as a week ahead?

The original tools for a meteorologist consisted of barometers, thermometers, anemometers, and rain gauges. These were used to detect atmospheric pressure, the temperature, wind speed, and the amount of rain fallen over a given period of time. These devises are great to find patterns or see how bad a storm is, but now we need something a little more sophisticated. All of the instruments mentioned are still used today; there are just a few big changes that help tremendously.

During WWII the invention of radar became widely used as a defense against air attacks; much advancement was made during the war and the system now known as Doppler radar was invented. Doppler radar sends out a series of electromagnetic pulses that in turn bounce off of a foreign object returning to the receiver, which then measures how long it took for the pulse to travel. Police use this technology to catch all of us who like to drive our personal speed limit.

After the war it was soon realized that this Doppler radar could be used to "see" severe weather such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes. With even more fine-tuning, meteorologists were able to combine measurements with barometers and the like and were able to predict what a certain weather cell would do, be it rain or shine.

Now all of this was still spotty as meteorologists couldn’t really predict the finer things of weather. Radar drastically helped with severe weather conditions and large fronts, but it couldn’t tell specifics as people would like it to.

Up until 1974 satellites had been used for weather observation, but after this date they were installed as a fixed measure for data and predictions. Today’s weather satellites have the ability to check cloud cover, winds, ocean currents, fog, storm circulation, and snow pack by using imagery and infrared technologies.

When all of these technologies work together meteorologists can make a very educated assumption on what the weather will be like in a given area. Of course this is still an assumption, no matter how detailed, and we really don’t know what will happen until we look outside. However, this time of year in North Idaho makes us doubt even that when it comes to the weather.

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Author info

Thomas McMahon Thomas McMahon is a student at Albertson's College of Idaho who, when he's not playing some geeky video game or designing some new, award-winning engineering project, plays basketball and tennis. His study interest is engineering.

Tagged as:

technology, weather, meteorology

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