Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tech Column: Stormy Skies

by Bill Adler

It's that time of year. You know: An actual season. Not like the period between this past November and March, when pretty much nothing happened weatherwise. Except for an actual pollen count in February.

It's spring and we're guaranteed to get storms. There will be rain and thunder and possibly even accompanying tornados. There will be wind. There will be days that start out sunny and then suddenly turn black as a dark cloud covers the sky.

Or at least that's the plan. You never know with the weather anymore.

With that in mind, I thought it would good to take a look at some of the Internet's best and most interesting weather websites. Sites that give you more than just the current conditions and next days' forecast.

One of my new favorites is Wind Map, http://hint.fm/wind. Wind Map shows the complexity and beauty of current surface winds around the United States. It's stunning and shows you the weather in ways you've never visualized before.

Do you have itchy eyes? If you want to know where the pollen isn't high, take a look at Weather.com's US pollen map: www.weather.com/maps/activity/allergies/ustreepollen_large.html.

On the slightly more nerdy side, there's Weatherspark, www.weatherspark.com, which offers graphs, maps, and an incredible range of local weather data.

Weather Underground remains my favorite weather website. In addition to providing comprehensive weather with uncanny accuracy, Weather Underground, www.wunderground.com, can send severe weather alerts to your phone or by email. Weather Underground lets you customize your own page, so that you can see the weather in various locations at the same time.

The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang is the best online source of local weather information. And it's a fun read, too.

Websites, of course, aren't the only source of weather information: There are thousands of weather apps for smartphones. Most of these are excellent, and provide all the information you could possibly want; choosing which app to get is often a matter of what looks best to you.  There are only a handful of apps that turn your phone into a weather alert warning device, like a NOAA weather radio, http://amzn.to/Hiyp4b, that makes a very loud noise when there's an impending tornado, severe thunderstorm or other dangerous weather. Apps such as Weather Alert USA, iMapWeather Radio and MyWarn will push audible and visual warnings to your phone.

When a weather radio sounds an alarm, the alarm is followed by a human voice that describes the actual impending bad weather. This year, the National Weather Service is experimenting with new accompanying text, because many people didn't heed the old, banal warning. Now, if you live in a tornado-prone state, you might hear something like this coming out of your weather radio, "Deadly tornado. Complete destruction of entire neighborhoods is likely. Many well built homes and businesses will be completely swept from their foundations. Mass devastation is highly likely, making the area unrecognizable to survivors. Tornado may be un-survivable if shelter is not sought below ground level."

That will get your attention.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft . He tweets at @billadler.

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