How it's made: The Plain English Guide to Weather Observation Networks

Creating an accurate weather forecast relies on a lot of factors. To explain how these all come together, we’ve developed the Five Categories Methodology.
 
In How It’s Made series, we go under the hood of weather forecasting. We explore the Five Categories that create an accurate, reliable forecast.  Each article in the series is a stand-alone story, but together they explain precisely how the Five Categories tie together to take a weather forecast from good to great.
 

In the First Category: Weather observations, we discuss the main types of observation networks, outlining how they work and exploring how they contribute to your weather forecast.

 

Download your copy of "How It’s Made: The Ultimate Guide to Weather Forecasting" below:


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Monitoring the weather is part of many people’s daily routine at work. They do this to understand the safety risks for colleagues, how the weather can impact operations, and understand steps required to keep the business running profitably.   

Meteorologists are also observing the weather on a daily basis because they need to know what is happening now to forecast what the weather will do. But where weather experts differ from casual observers is the scale of their observations. They rely on weather observation networks, drawing on a broad range of high-quality data from multiple sources to ensure they know what is happening.

 

Where are the main types of weather observation networks?

 

There are two main types of observation networks used to help create a weather forecast:

  1. Physical locations - e.g., weather stations (on land) and buoys (on water), which measure conditions in their precise location

     
  2. Remote observations - e.g., radars and lightning detectors (horizontally on land) and satellites (from above), these measure conditions in a radius around the location

 

"MeteoGroup uses observations weather stations, radar, satellite and lightning networks worldwide to analyze the actual weather conditions, to adjust the forecast for the next hours and to validate and statistically correct our forecasts using a quality checked archive of observations”
– Wim van den Berg

 

The four main weather observation sources used by weather experts

 

Weather experts use observation data from weather stations, gathering it from many sources. They then complete this data with observations from radar, satellite and lightning.

 

#1. Weather stations
 

Weather stations provide observation data readings of atmospheric conditions at their physical location. The data provided will depend on where the station is based. Marine buoys, for instance, will give nautical weather information like wave height. Road sites provide accurate measurements of road conditions.

Observation data is available from organizations operating networks of weather stations. Some information is even accessible as open data; however, the level of detail and accuracy of this observation data varies.


How do weather experts improve the data from weather stations?

Weather experts will only use reliable data sources, like from local Met Offices. Where possible, they invest in multiple sources to correlate results. This approach helps to improve the location coverage and quality of data.  They will also complete the observational data from weather stations with other sources to create an accurate view.

 

#2. Weather radar
 

Weather radar uses radio waves to locate precipitation. It calculates the distance, the direction the precipitation is traveling, and the type of precipitation (e.g., rain, snow or hail). Currently, radar data is primarily available from national Met Offices, which operate radar networks.

 

How do weather experts improve the data from radar?

Weather experts use the movement of precipitation from radar to create a movement field. This information is then applied to real-time data to help map the possible rainfall in the next three hours. Additionally, they’ll bring together data from multiple sources to provide insight over a large area, such as a whole country or even the whole of Europe.

 

#3. Weather satellites
 

A weather satellite monitors the conditions of the atmosphere, clouds, and the Earth’s surface. Images are taken either by the infrared spectrum, which allows cloud coverage to be observed at all time; or by the visible spectrum, which requires daylight but provides a more realistic visualization.

 

How do weather experts improve the data from weather satellites?

Weather experts will process the satellite data, combining data from multiple satellite sources to create a global view. They also integrate it with data from other observation sources, to provide a complete picture of what is happening.

 

#4. Lightning detection
 

During a thunderstorm, every lightning strike creates electromagnetic waves that travels through the atmosphere at the speed of light. Ground-based (terrestrial) antenna networks can detect these waves. Regional networks play a vital role in accurately identifying lightning with terrestrial systems and satellites.

Lightning can also be detected by satellites – while terrestrial networks have a higher level of accuracy, satellite data offers better coverage over the ocean.

 

How do weather experts improve the data from lightning?
Weather experts improve the data by using their own end-to-end lightning data-processing system; they can offer near real-time visualization of the data, across different parameters. They also combine the lightning data with weather radar to help identify active thunderstorms.

 

Creating forecasts from observation data

 

The knowledge and experience of weather experts enhance the data gathered from weather observation networks. Their skill means they can bring together multiple data sources, to improve the observation data and use this to provide a complete picture of what the forecast for the next hours will be. Where forecast accuracy is critical, these experts are what differentiates between good enough to great.

 

Download your copy of "How It’s Made: The Ultimate Guide to Weather Forecasting" below:


Download Now

 

MeteoGroup uses observations weather stations, radar, satellite and lightning networks worldwide to analyze the actual weather conditions, to adjust the forecast for the next hours and to validate and statistically correct our forecasts using a quality checked archive of observations

 

Wim van den Berg
Senior Meteorological Consultant
WeatherTech Team
MeteoGroup