Forecasting, n.: the science of predicting what weather we are having

- with apologies to Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

My Favorite Web Sites - Winchester Star - 2/15/01
 by Martin Zombeck

This is a biweekly column providing an annotated list of web sites that may be of interest to the community. Each column will list sites that belong to a particular category: search engines, art, online newspapers & magazines, health and medicine, history, business and economics, etc. or sites relevant to a particular season, e.g., skiing, gardening. Most sites will be non-commercial. To make it easier to access the sites, each biweekly column will be posted on the Town of Winchester's web site one week after publication so that the sites can be accessed and bookmarked without having to be typed. Previous columns will be archived at the Winchester site, also.

After having gone through the over-hyped weather predictions of last week, it is difficult not to be a bit skeptical of all weather predictions. However, predictions are obviously useful for planning activities as long as one is aware of their limitations. 3-5 days advance predictions are usually unreliable, as we all know after planning a picnic. One or two day predictions are not bad for normal non-stormy weather. According to recent news articles (see, for example, USA Today, 3/9/01) The National Weather Service claims the following record of accuracy for the year 2000 for severe weather: 85% accuracy for winter storms with an average warning time of 10 hours; Tornadoes, 65% with 10-minute warning; 86% accuracy for flash floods with 44-minute warning.

Meteorologists in the United States get most of their information from the National Weather Service, the federal agency that makes weather observations, runs weather computer models, and provides the information to TV and radio stations for release to the public. This service is usually conservative in their predictions. The TV and radio meteorologists (from the Greek for "meatier paycheck", according to Mad Dog Productions) are free to make their own predictions in order to compete with each other for ratings. Therefore, a good place to start on the web to get unadorned predictions is at the site of the National Weather Service. However, all the sites are useful for informing you what the weather is like, if, for some reason, you can't look out the window. But they can be very useful when you're travelling, either within or outside the US. You can get complete reports of existing conditions anywhere in the world (and even in space). And if you are a weather buff, the sites are very informative and fun.

Here is a list that represents my choice of some of the best weather sites on the web - as when consulting a doctor for a serious medical condition, seek a second opinion in order to judge the validity of a particular prediction.

National Weather Service
The source for US weather data - 12-hour and seven day surface forecasts, aviation weather, weather maps, space environment, marine weather, current conditions, 3-day city forecast, warnings (severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, flash floods, winter storms), and much, much more.

The Weather Underground
In spite of its rather informal title, a great site. Marvelous maps of current conditions throughout the US: radar, visibility, wind, heat index, windchill, humidity, dewpoint, UV forecast, satellite, fronts, snow, jet stream. Provides marine forecasts, ski conditions, and historical weather data. Find the weather for any city, state or zip code, or country and obtain a forecast. For Winchesterites, local conditions are given for Bedford.

5-day forecasts, seasonal summaries for cities throughout the world, "lifestyle" weather (golfing, sailing, skiing, driving, stargazing, outdoors, travel, health, home/garden), airport delay map, local, national, and international weather, latest weather headlines, radar imagery, regional radar loop, and much more.

Commercial weather service for internet weather sites.

The Weather Channel
Features the Weekly Planner offering a five day weather outlook for the entire United States, Weekend Outlook offering a quick look at what weather conditions to expect for the weekend and other video presentations.

TV 5 Weather - WeatherCenter5
WCVB-TV's weather web site.

FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Storm Watch
The Tropical Storm Watch page is currently inactive and will be updated next year for the 2001 Hurricane Season.

Hurricane Hunters
This is the place to see unique photos inside hurricanes. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, known as the Hurricane Hunters of the Air Force Reserve, is one-of-a-kind: the only Department of Defense organization still flying into tropical storms and hurricanes.

National Hurricane Center
Tropical Prediction Center - aircraft reconnaissance, satellite imagery, radar images, historical information.

Make a Tide Prediction
Although not strictly a weather site, tidal information is very useful during storm and foul weather conditions for persons living near the coast or sailors. This site will provide tidal predictions for more than 3000 tide stations predicted by the Center for Operational Oceanographic Services and Products. It also offers near real-time tidal and storm surge water level observation data and plots.

Space Weather
Science news and information about the Sun-Earth environment.

The Old Farmer's Almanac
SINCE 1792, The Old Farmer's Almanac has published useful information for people in all walks of life: tide tables for those who live near the ocean; sunrise tables and planting charts for those who live on the farm; recipes for those who live in the kitchen; and forecasts. You can order many of the Almanac's publications here.

Everyone Talks About The Weather, But Only The Weatherman Gets Paid For It
A humorous treatment of the art of weather forecasting.

Previous columns with live links can be found at

When he is not updating the Town of Winchester web site (, Martin Zombeck can be found at either the Packer tennis courts or at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where he is a physicist.