Weather observations

Sun, rain, snow, wind... we can't escape the weather, but we can prepare for it if we know what is coming.

Observation methods

Temperature, humidity, precipitation, air pressure, wind speed, and wind direction are key observations of the atmosphere that help forecasters predict the weather. These same factors have been used since the first weather observations were recorded. However, the types and quality of weather instruments and the methods of analyzing observations have changed significantly. Basic weather observation instruments include thermometers, rain gauges, barometers, and anemometers (wind speed meters). Examples of more sophisticated equipment are wind profilers, weather balloons (radiosondes), Doppler radar, and satellites. Even with the highly technical equipment available, human observationsoffsite link still provide important information about sky conditions, clouds, and the type, size, and amount of precipitation.

If you are fascinated by weather, you have the opportunity to become a trained volunteer SKYWARN storm spotter for your local weather forecast office.
Help wanted: Be a storm spotter
Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by SKYWARN® spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.

Weather forecasting

Each day in the United States over 210 million weather observations are processed and used to create weather forecasts. These measurements are obtained from automated instruments, professional meteorologists, and thousands of trained volunteer observers. Observations are recorded and uploaded into powerful computer models that create global and regional weather forecasts. Meteorologists in the 126 National Weather Service local offices combine these large scale forecasts with local observations and their knowledge of local weather patterns to make a forecast for their specific region. Depending on the needs and interests of the community, these may include forecasts for severe weather, aviation weatherfire weather, marine weather, volcanic ash, snow fall, and air quality.

The National Weather Service launches two weather balloons per day at each of the 102 forecast offices throughout the United States to collect data to help better predict the weather.
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No! It’s a NOAA weather balloon!
NOAA’s National Weather Service launches weather balloons twice a day from 102 sites throughout the United States, the Caribbean and the Pacific to help with weather forecasting.


Meteorology, as with any science, is most meaningful when learned through observations, experimentation, hypothesizing, analyzing, testing, and drawing conclusions. Using inquiry based lessons and experiments in the classroom that relate to the weather outdoors can improve student understanding of the processes and patterns of daily weather. The real-time data in this Collection provides relevant and real-world sources of information for math and science educators who are instructing their students in data collection and graphing skills. Looking for patterns in weather observations can help students gain an understanding about the forces of nature at work in the atmosphere around us.

Damage from the March, 1948 tornado that hit Tinker Air Force Base.
1948: The first tornado forecast
In the evening of March 25, 1948, a tornado roared through Tinker Air Force Base (AFB), Oklahoma, causing considerable damage, a few injuries, but no fatalities. However, the destruction could have been much worse...

Introductory text compiled from resources provided by NOAA's National Weather Service.

Page last updated 2/14/2011.