Most people want to know what the weather is going to be. They want to know whether they need to wear a coat or carry an umbrella. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) relies on weather forecasts to make important spacecraft launch and landing decisions. Farmers, pilots, and construction crews are people whose jobs are directly affected by weather.
The Science of Weather
Weather forecasting is predicting what the weather will be. The science of weather forecasting is called meteorology. The Greek philosopher Aristotle is considered the father of meteorology.
His book Meteorologica, written around 340 BCE, was the first major study of the atmosphere. The atmosphere is the mass of gases that surround Earth. Some of Aristotle’s ideas about rain, hailstorms, and other kinds of weather were very accurate.
Scientists used to rely on simple devices such as rain gauges, weather balloons, and kites to gather weather information. Now researchers called meteorologists base their forecasts on information gathered by thousands of weather stations, on land and at sea, around the world.
Information on temperature, air pressure, wind speed, rain, and cloud cover is gathered and entered into computers. One basic tool of meteorology is the rawinsonde. This instrument is carried in the air by a weather balloon to track and measure wind speed and direction. It transmits measurements of atmospheric temperature, pressure, and humidity back to receivers on the ground.
High-performance research airplanes equipped with measuring and sampling instruments fly into the hearts of huge, intense weather systems. They fly into hailstorms or into smoke and ash over erupting volcanoes. High-tech equipment, such as weather satellites, can also be used to forecast the weather.
Satellites are among the most valuable tools of meteorology. They can cover the entire surface of the earth, including vast ocean areas where no weather stations exist. And they can monitor changes in global climate. High-speed computers process the information. Meteorologists study all this information and predict the weather.
In 2011 NASA launched a pole-orbiting satellite. It has a Cross-track Infrared Sounder (CrIS). This can take 3-D pictures of temperature, atmospheric pressure, and moisture. It will help make predictions more accurate.
The National Weather Service
The National Weather Service (NWS) is the official weather forecasting agency in the United States. It is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NWS meteorologists predict and track hurricanes, tornadoes, snowstorms, and even heat waves.
NWS issues storm warnings and provides other weather information to radio and television stations across the country. Local meteorologists then provide a weather forecast to the public during their regional newscasts.
Accurate weather forecasting has helped save lives. The NWS has predicted powerful and destructive hurricanes. People who live in the area where the storms will hit have time to leave before the deadly storms arrive.