Technology & Weather

The times and technology, they certainly are a-changin.  Bob Dylan gets credit for writing the song a few decades ago, but this certainly has been the theme in the world of technology and how it relates to weather.  Ten years ago, it is hard to believe such things as twitter, facebook, iPhones, along with an array of apps for those smartphones would exist?  The internet really didn't become mainstream until the mid-90s but as it has been become more accessible in more places, we can keep track of just about anything.  So instead of having to run to the nearest computer, now it is a matter of just whipping out the smartphone to see the latest radar images, checking the current temps, or in my case checking out the various depictions of weather model data.  Of course, when technology fails, like if the internet connection goes down, or the power goes out, we almost feel like we are living in another world.  Guess having to live like it's the 1980s or earlier can throw us through a loop.

No less, in a previous blog, I talked about how cool it would be to have a cell phone that would change it's background images based on the weather.  So for instance, sunshine illuminating a green field for a sunny day, drops of water splattered around on your screen when it's raining, a frosted appearance for icy & snow conditions and perhaps a tropical scene when it's hot and humid.  Granted when I was writing about that, a company had just come up with the idea.  Although I haven't actually done a search for it on my smartphone, I'm pretty sure there is an app for that.  The same can been said for a whole bunch of other aspects to follow the weather.  Just check out the app store on your phone.  Now for all those great imaginers out there, it's time to take a glimpse into the misty distant future to see what else could help make our lives easier.

I'll start with weather and our cars.  Yes there are many options available for navigation to be able to get from point A to point B, including time saving digital maps to avoid construction and traffic.  I still have yet to see or hear about a means of navigation that will alert you to changing weather conditions while you are on the road.  In a sense, having cars that can talk to each other, or even the road talking to the cars on what's ahead.  The best we have at the moment are those electronic signs that are on the highways informing us of road hazards.  But what if you knew at least a few minutes ahead of time exactly where the road was icy, snow covered, flooded, or just downright hazardous to travel.  I don't think the ability to incorporate this into cars is not too far out of reach, even if you don't have the latest and greatest new car.  Just plug in that GPS device, connect your smartphone via USB, or even make use of the satellite radio that you might have installed to display or give you an audio alert of how the changing weather could impact you.  There are many highways that already have temperature and wind sensors installed on them, particularly on a fair number of overpasses and bridges.  Yes, there are even those that will can be triggered to spray de-icer on the road as conditions become icy or snowy.  Not to say snow plows will become obsolete anytime soon, but having this kind of technology certainly would give them a good head start.

When it comes to the tools we have available in the Weather Lab, there is always something that we look forward to having some day.  One certainty is the roll out of the Dual-Pole Doppler Radar which is scheduled to take place in the spring of 2012 by the local National Weather Service Offices.  This upgraded radar system will provide not only horizontal, but also vertical scans of the atmosphere.  In turn, we will be better able to decipher sleet from snow or freezing rain, the size of hail falling from a severe thunderstorm, and to more accurately pinpoint where a tornado may be forming or on the ground.  The only question we have at the moment on this technology is how to display it in an easy to understand matter. Yes, the old KISS method certainly applies here.  Of course, one means of technology that does work in our favor is that computers will continue to be faster, have more memory and graphics abilities, and in time be even smaller than what we are used to at the moment.  To get that cutting edge technology at first however is still going to be pricey.

Other items on the weather wish list is to be able to get more surface & upper air observations that can be incorporated into our computer weather models. This is slowly getting better, but we certainly can make them even higher in resolution and hopefully fine tune them to help us make more accurate forecasts.  More so, better means of forecasting how the intensity of hurricanes will change as they evolve. Right now, we are at a distinct disadvantage when the National Hurricane Center provides their forecasts.  They are improving on the forecast track, but not so much on if a hurricane remains a category 2 or deepens to a category 5.  More so, there aren't nearly as many tools available that we as forecasters can take advantage of to fine tune these predictions.  The same can be said with narrowing down where tornadoes or supercell thunderstorms may hit and what their intensity could be more than a few minutes to an hour ahead of time.

I can go on and on, but the fact of the matter is, advancing technology will be our friend when it comes to understanding the weather.  If we can prevent weather tragedies, determine where prolonged droughts or flooding rains could occur before they happen or even gage where wild fires could form before they start, it would be great.  As the old saying goes, only time will tell what will come next.

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