Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dreaming up Weather 2.0

Weather Scenario:

Today will rub you the right way, weatherwise. A weak bubble of high pressure donates blue sky, highs in the mid to upper 70s, light winds and low humidity. You'll be staring out the window A LOT later today.

The approach of a reinforcing cool front will set off a fairly significant period of rain Wednesday into Thursday; showers and thundershowers will be widespread both days. Computer models print out anywhere from .50" of rain in the Twin Cities to over an inch for St. Cloud by Thursday evening. No need to water again this week. Temperatures may be stuck in the 60s (for highs) Thursday, by the way. A hint of late September/early October is 48 hours away, but it will be fleeting....for now.

QPF for the next 5 days. Note the track of ex-tropical storm (Claudette) pushing northward across Alabama towards Louisville, Indianapolis and Cleveland. The approach of a cooler front may squeeze out .5 to 1" of rain on much of Minnesota Wednesday and Thursday.

We dry out Friday as sunshine returns, I'm still cautiously optimistic about the weekend weather, sunshine both days, highs near 80. Yes, it will be a good weekend for the lake or pool. We slowly cool down next week, back into the 70s for daytime highs, maybe some cool 60s up north. No, I don't see a run of 90s for the opening of the Minnesota State Fair, when all bets are off in the weather department. As we know all too well, ANYTHING can happen during the Great Minnesota Get Together.

Paul's Outlook for the Twin Cities

Today: Sunny and pleasant, potentially one of the nicest days of the entire summer. Winds: W 10-15. High: 78

Tonight: Clouds slowly increase, not as chilly. Low: 58

Wednesday: Cloudier, cooler, more unsettled with showers, possible thunder. High: 75

Thursday: Mostly cloudy, cool with more showers likely. High: 68

Friday: Getting better again, sunshine on the increase. High: 75

Saturday: Mostly sunny, lake-worthy. High: 81

Sunday: Hazy sun, a bit warmer, still dry. High: 83

Monday: Clouds increase, chance of a light shower or sprinkle. High: near 80

Tuesday: Partly sunny, cooler. High: 76

Freaky Fact for Dedicated Weather Nerds: did you know that the whole naming hurricane thing got started in WWII, in the Pacific. Air Force Reconnaissance pilots (looking for Japanese warships and planes) also kept an eye out for typhoons (same thing as hurricanes, only in the western Pacific). Get this, the first aviator to spot the outer fringes of a typhoon got "naming rights". That's right, there were no weather satellites, usually the only way they knew a typhoon was lurking was to either float into it on a warship or destroyer OR fly into it, again, accidentally. So that first proud pilot or navigator had the dubious honor of naming the developing super-storm after their girl friend, significant other (or wife!) back home. Yes, I'm (still) telling the truth. This is too bizarre to be made up! I'm just not that creative...

B-29 SuperFortress Bombers saw lot's of action in the Pacific theater during World War II and the Korean War. These high-altitude bombers often flew (unknowingly) into typhoons, hurricanes in the western Pacific. Keep in mind the first weather satellite wasn't launched until 1961 ("Tiros" back in 1961). Now we rely on weather satellites to give us a continuous fix on the location and derived intensity of hurricanes around the planet. During WWII Air Force pilots who first spotted typhoons had "naming rights", able to name the storm after girl friends or wives back home.

Tiros 1 Weather Satellite. Launched into low orbit about 435-460 miles above the Earth on April 1, 1960, Tiros 1, the world's first weather satellite, lasted only 78 days. But it was able to capture imagery of clouds below, including this crude, grainy image of a tropical cyclone, a developing hurricane.

So, eventually the NWS began naming all the hurricanes in the Atlantic/Caribbean after female names (instead of Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc) in the 1950s because using real names made them more MEMORABLE to Americans. Hurricane Charlie is easier to remember than Hurricane Foxtrot, right? But in the 1970s the NWS got into trouble from woman's groups claiming this practice was sexist and unfair. They had a point. Why only female names for the most destructive, hideous, pain-inducing storms on the planet? So in the 1970s the NWS began alternating between male and female names, spreading the notoriety (and pain) around more fairly.

If it hadn't been for those brave Air Force pilots flying missions in the Pacific we might still be using "Alpha, Bravo, Charlie.....(yawn)...."

Last Thought: what's next? We're going from a speech (TV newscast, newspaper, etc) to a conversation (Twitter, Facebook, blogging commentary, etc etc). What's next for weather? I like the idea of a central repository of information, a place to post the latest model data, the sites, graphics, maps that best tell the weather story, and a place where weather enthusiasts (ie YOU!) can send in photos, video clips, observations, musings, snow depths, severe thunderstorm commentary, anything and everything.

But it can't be edited in the traditional way. That might have been the case 2 years ago, but no more. Weather fanatics need to be able to get to the weather information, separate wisdom out of raw data (easier said than done), share information, not only pull stuff out that helps you plan your days/weekends, saving you time and money, keeping your family safer, but also contribute content.

Here's what I'm trying to say (poorly, I fear). Right now there are some 80-100 automated airport weather instruments. They report the weather every hour, temperature, dew point, wind direction and speed, whether it rained during the last hour, some can even estimate how high the clouds are overhead. They can operate without human intervention....little automated weather robots. Pilots and meteorologists rely on these ASOS and AWOS sites around the state, around the nation. To be able to predict the weather we have to first know, and appreciate, what's happening RIGHT NOW. Ground-based observations, radar, satellite imagery, weather balloon reports twice a day, "Profiler" data (think Doppler Radar pointing straight up) to tell us what winds and temperatures are doing high overhead over time.

But there should be a smart way to tap social networks and allow consumers to contribute, not only raw data (3" of snow out at my home in Maplewood, Paul) but commentary, insightful observations that really help to put the weather into perspective. Stuff like "robins just arrived, 2 weeks ahead of schedule" or "lake down 4 feet, dinged up my third propeller on my pontoon today - dammit!" That, plus sending in photos of the sky, unusual clouds, strange formations. Imagine how cool it would be to see a storm, of any scale, from hundreds of unique angles, and then piece them all together....to see weather in a way that hasn't been possible up until now.

There is a "social weather" service cooking in my brain, a newer, better, more democratic, more personalized, interactive, high-tech AND high-touch way to approach weather. Again, I do not have the answer key. So much of this will be trial and error, and error....and error. Did I mention error? But we're at that stage in the devolution of media: slap stuff against the wall and see what sticks? Anyone who claims to have the answer is either a sage or a fool. Probably the latter. An amazing transition is underway - traditional media is dying before our very eyes, something new (and I still think - ultimately - better) will take it's place, one that requires input from all of us to be as good as it can be.

Weather 2.0

Please don't be shy. If you have some strong ideas, thoughts, suggestions - share them. What do you think a typical weather presentation will look like in 3 years? Will people still want a 2-4 minute narrative, an explanation of what is happening, and why, along with some perspective, explanation and analysis? Or is it just "give me the 7-Day Paul, and shut your pie-hole....don't need to hear any long-winded explanations or alibi's!" That sounded like my wife of 25 years, by the way. She pops into my head at the damdest times....

I'm done. Ranting is over. But sometimes I'm just not satisfied with status quo. I'm easily bored, which is both a blessing and a curse.

GFS Extended Outlook for the Twin Cities. This "Meteogram" is fairly intuitive. The blue line is predicted temperature, day-by-day, going out through next Tuesday evening. The highest "POP" or probability of precipitation comes Thursday afternoon (85%) But Wednesday afternoon looks showery and unsettled with a 63% "POP". As you can see the GFS model dries us out and warms us up as we sail into the weekend. For the very latest GFS model output for Minneapolis/St. Paul area click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment