Weather observations

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.

A weather balloon is set afloat during an autolauncher test run at the National Weather Service Field Support Center in Sterling, Virginia. NOAA scientists at the support center extensively evaluated autolaunchers for operational feasibility before the first unit was deployed to Kodiak, Alaska, in 2015, and now they test software upgrades to ensure continued high performance.
Up, up and away! 6 benefits of automated weather balloon launches
The trusty weather balloon has been an essential data tool for forecasters for nearly 90 years.

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.

Buoys, such as this one in the Bering Sea, provided critical data for the NOAA Ecosystem and Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations (EcoFOCI) studies. This mooring provides year-round, long-term collection of velocity, temperature, salinity, zooplankton abundance, and other parameters, and has been maintained since 1995.
Weather buoys save lives
The benefits of buoy data are widespread.


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.

GOES East maps lightning on the Northern Plains, June 11, 2018.
Tracking lightning from space: How satellites keep you safe during thunderstorms
Lightning strikes, giant sparks of electricity in Earth’s atmosphere that are hotter than the surface of the sun, are a major hazard during thunderstorms. Knowing when and where lightning is occurring can tell us a lot about a storm, and satellites can help!

Updated February 2011