Have you ever watched the weather reports on television and wondered how exactly the reporters know what the weather will be days from now? In a way they do guess, but it's definitely not a random guess! Weather forecasters, or meteorologists, use a number of special methods, devices, and computer software to help them out. Day after day, meteorologists use computers to record data about the weather. This large amount of information about the past weather helps them to predict what the weather will be like in the future. As a simple example, suppose you see dark, black clouds in the sky several times, followed by heavy rain. The next time you see those clouds, you'll know immediately that it will probably rain soon. In a similar way, using higher scientific techniques, meteorologists are able to observe the weather and generate patterns and predictions.
Meteorologists use a number of symbols that they lay out on a weather map to quickly convey information about the weather at certain points. These symbols display information like temperature, air pressure, cloudiness, wind speed and direction, and precipitation (rain or snow). Quite often, you might hear meteorologists talking about high or low pressure systems. This is quite important in discussing changes in the weather. High pressure systems are masses of fresh, cool air that is usually quite dry. It signals good weather and clear skies. On the other hand, low pressure systems bring heavy, warm, wet air that usually means stormy weather ahead. Another popular term is fronts. A front is the line that forms between two different masses of air. Very often, it creates a storm. A cold front forms when warm and cold air meet from opposite directions and the warm air turns cold. By contrast, a warm front is exactly the opposite. Meanwhile, a stationary front is when the warm and cold air masses coexist and move together without changing. Finally, an occluded front forms when a warm front is overtaken by a cold front.
Weather satellites are very important for meteorologists. These satellites transmit data and images from outer space to help scientists see how cloud systems, ocean currents and storms are moving. Doppler Radar is a device that can tell scientists about changes in rain, snow and wind. It helps them to detect changes in the weather early so that they can warn people of upcoming bad weather. When we look at satellite weather images, we can spot clouds or storm systems since they look like large white or gray swirls above the land. By examining the direction they are moving in, we can tell which areas will be affected by that weather.
There are many ways in which we can learn about the weather. The newspapers and television weather channel give us daily reports about upcoming weather. Even more useful are local weather websites that also show hourly reports as well as long-term weather predictions. Finally, you can even learn to predict the weather yourself by carrying out experiments at home!
To learn more about the weather and weather forecasting, check out these helpful resources.
- Weather Symbols - Print out this reference guide to quickly look up symbols used by weather stations.
- Weather Experiments - Try out some weather projects for fun or at your school's science fair.
- Weather Forecasting - Follow a step-by-step guide to learn how weather is predicted.
- Weather Glossary - Look up any weather-related words or terms that you don't understand.
- Understanding Weather - Read online chapters about storms, precipitation and other types of weather.
- All About Weather - Learn all about wind, rain, temperature and much more!
- Forecasting Methods - See how Ben Franklin tried predicting the weather, and learn how to build your own weather station.
- Tree House Weather Kids - Explore a virtual tree house weather station and learn all about forecasting different types of weather.
- Take the Weather Quiz - Try a fun quiz with the Weather Dog and see how much you remember!
- Interpreting Air Pressure - Find out what it means when air pressure starts to change.
- You're the Meteorologist! - Try out a weather experiment to see how well you can forecast your city's upcoming sunshine or storms.
- Meet a Meteorologist - Watch a video interview with Howie Bluestein, a real-life meteorologist, as he explains his job to kids.
- Climate Change - What does it mean if our weather starts changing drastically over long periods of time?
- A Weather WebQuest - Go on an online adventure to explore changes in weather.
- Weather Watch - Use the Weather Watch tools to learn how to observe, track, and analyze weather in your area.