Thursday, June 18, 2009

Storm Story and Product Review - Weather Underground

On Tuesday around 6am I was lying in bed deciding whether or not to get up to check on Elias, who was making noise. Then the tornado siren sounded. There was no rain or noise, but looking out the window I could see that there were two skies- the distant gray sky and the sky right above us, a dark black shelf cloud. "Uh oh."

While Joni took Elias to shelter, my first step was to immediately call up my Weather Underground NEXRAD bookmark on my Nokia e63. WUnderground is a very powerful resource, you have access to a lot more NEXRAD data than on other sites. The radar map showed me the individual cells coming toward us, the probability and size of hail, the wind speed, and how much precipitation the cell was dropping. Here's an example (the details on the labels are below the radar, not pictured here):
Sure enough, we had the purple triangle representing a tornado vortex signature with an arrow pointing right at Bolivar, and not far away. I immediately turned on my "police" scanner and heard the dispatchers announce the tornado was 5 minutes out. The sirens had blown before emergency services had announced the warning, which is great (it didn't happen that way last time). Storm spotters were being scrambled, but being 6am no one was on the spot at the time. the NWS' HAM radio StormNet was up but with little spotter activity.

WUnderground allows you to look at different data. You can see which directions winds within the cells are moving, so you can see if there's rotation. You can look at how high up the storm goes to determine its scope. You can look at how big the core of the cell is. The radar FAQ are located here. There is also a weather station active in Bolivar, so we can get up-to-the-second local conditions.

There is also a Wundermap that syncs with Google Maps to give you a specific view, but it appears that the NEXRAD map is not properly laid onto the Google coordinates so it may say it's raining over your house when it's really not there yet. Wundermap is sort of a gimmick, it's their NEXRAD stuff where the real power is located.

Wunderground has its own Wiki page. You can also create a blog, upload pictures, and share stories with your neighbors on the site. Pretty cool community.

To view Wunderground's archived radar loop of that system, click here. The bad part of Tuesday's storm just missed us, there were 80mph winds just west of the county line and a lot of flooding everywhere. We had some dime sized hail.

If you want to be prepared-- use Weather Underground. The information you get from TV is usually old and unhelpful, especially if they don't want to interrupt GMA(!).

I've also decided to get my HAM radio operator's license this summer so I can also participate in the StormNet. This last storm has left me disgruntled with the local HAM folk as they seem clueless on how to get quick information from places like Weather Underground and Twitter.

I'm also likely going to pay the $10 to view Weather Underground ad-free for a year. This will make it load faster on my mobile.

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