Weather observations

Observing the daily weather is part of a regular routine for many of us, helping us decide what to wear and which activities we will do each day. Similar observations of atmospheric conditions are also required by meteorologists to develop those weather forecasts with which we are all familiar.

A large, branched bolt of lightning.
Lightning strikes the United States about 25 million times a year. (Paulina Cwik/NOAA)

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 observations offsite link still provide important information about sky conditions, clouds, and the type, size, and amount of precipitation.

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.

EDUCATION CONNECTION

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.