Thursday, 25 April 2019


Over the last four decades I have been involved with teaching introductory meteorology courses at the college level. In addition, I wrote a daily national weather summary in support of this AMS Weather Studies (formerly called DataStreme Atmosphere) course for 20 years. I still remain involved with the American Meteorological Society's Education Program as the editor for the Weekly Weather & Climate News and the series of Supplemental Information...In Greater Depth that appears each week.

I have been frequently asked how I follow the weather, not only locally around my home near Madison, WI, but also across the nation, running from Alaska and Hawaii in the west to the Atlantic Seaboard, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the east. Over the years, weather data and a wide variety of weather maps, satellite images and radar charts have become more readily available on the Internet. In addition to more data and maps, they are available in greater resolution and at a more rapid pace.

One of the first places that I look to for assessing the current weather across the nation is the most recent national surface weather analysis. This map helps me locate surface high and low pressure systems, along with surface fronts, squall lines and dry lines. In addition, the isobars appearing on the map allow me to estimate the strength of the winds, since tightly packed isobars would indicate strong near surface winds. You should be familiar with these surface weather maps that appear on the RealTime Weather Portal. While the surface map appearing here is focused upon the 48 contiguous United States by design, I often want to see a weather map that covers Alaska, or all of North America. These surface weather maps are available from NOAA's Weather Prediction Center on their Surface Analysis Page. At times, I may want to look back at the weather maps for some particular day in the past if I recall some storm that was responsible for generating interesting weather over a section of the country. The Weather Prediction Center has a Daily Weather Map site that permits you to find daily maps back to late 2002.

I also want to check the recent satellite and radar imagery, especially appearing in an animated loop, to show the progression of weather systems in terms of clouds and precipitation. The latest satellite and radar animations for the Lower 48 states appearing on the RealTime Weather Portal are often adequate, but at times I would like to expand my horizons to other areas across North America or I would like to have higher resolution images. The Space Science and Engineering Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has a portal page entitled Geostationary Satellite Images that permits access to NOAA's GOES East and GOES West satellites, as well the satellites operated by the European Space Agency and Japan. Some of these images are full disk satellite images that run from the Arctic to Antarctic Circles. The National Weather Service (NWS) has a Doppler Radar National Mosaic that contains an interactive map from which you can click on a state and the local radar imagery will appear. This portal will also allow you to access the NWS radar sites in Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico. The Weather Prediction Center also has superimposed animated radar and satellite imagery on a 24-hour sequence of surface weather analysis charts.

If thunderstorms are occurring across the country, I often check the national map of the lightning detection network to see where cloud-to-ground lightning discharges have been detected over the last several hours. Severe thunderstorms can occur in almost any season of the year across many areas of the nation. I often check NOAA's Storm Prediction Center, especially for their SPC Storm Reports for the current day that shows reports of tornadoes, large hail and potentially damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds. I also would check the Day 1 Convective Outlook for assessing the potential for severe thunderstorm activity over the next 24 hours, focusing on the maps along with the accompanying narrative.

During the hurricane season for the North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific (especially during late summer and through autumn), I often check NOAA's National Hurricane Center website for their Graphical Tropical Weather Outlooks and their Active Storms pages to see if any tropical cyclone would be heading for coastal areas of the United States or any of its territories. This site also has a great archive of past tropical storms and hurricanes extending back decades. A corresponding portal page is available for the Central Pacific Hurricane Center that covers the region around Hawaii.

Once I have considered the current weather (along with the weather for the last several hours), I usually turn my attention to the forecasts. The Weather Prediction Center (WPC) has a Short Range Forecasts page that contains a sequence of maps that show the WPC forecasts of fronts, high/low pressure centers and expected precipitation across the nation starting with a lead time of 12 hours and running out to 60 hours. I also will inspect the Quantitative Precipitation Forecasts.

Since I am interested in past weather events and how these events have affected people and on occasion the course of history, I maintain a list of daily Historical Weather Events that I had extracted from the electronic files of the Aviation Weather Center, Kansas City, MO and from other sources. These files are posted on a daily basis on the section of the RealTime Weather Portal identified as "Historical Weather Events." My intention is to provide some historical perspective, some human interest, and even some humor at times. These types of entries could be used in many ways in the classroom as a vehicle for either introducing a topic (and it does not have to be meteorological) or helping the students maintain a weather calendar.

I hope that I have provided you with some ideas as to what types of weather information that could be employed in your classroom. Thank you for bearing with me, and keep a "weather eye out."


Ed Hopkins

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Prepared by Edward J. Hopkins, Ph.D., email
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