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Eye of the Storm: How the Weather Center Works

Weather forecasting is a group effort that starts with a coordinated weather center. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, maintains a vast network of weather monitoring stations, satellites, buoys, radar and field offices for providing climate, hydrologic and weather forecasts across the United States and its surrounding waters. As a national weather center, NOAA’s National Weather Service shares its data with the public. The weather center serves as a hub of data and products that are used by television and radio meteorologists, and the private sector, such as weather forecasting companies, aviators and other groups. When you see a weather forecast, the underlying data often originates from the NOAA weather center.

A Closer Look at the NOAA
In addition to generating national and local forecasts, NOAA maintains a Storm Prediction Center. This division vigilantly watches over the contiguous United States in search of severe weather such as tornados, severe thunderstorms, blizzards, heavy rain or snow, and fire storms.

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NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center offers forecasts ranging from six- to 10-day outlooks to three-month outlooks for temperature and precipitation. In addition, this division of the weather center also assesses U.S. hazards and drought conditions, and makes predictions about whether these conditions will improve or worsen. The Climate Prediction Center offers numerous tools including real-time monitoring of the climate and features interactive maps and extensive databases that anyone can access.

Another part of the National Weather Service involves issue-fire warnings. A color-coded system makes it easy to tell at a glance whether a particular region is under a fire-weather watch or if a “red-flag warning” has been issued.

Other Weather Center Concerns
The weather center doesn’t limit itself to storms, climate and fires. In fact, the center also issues warnings about hazards such as 911 telephone outages, air-quality alerts, avalanche warnings, child-abduction emergencies, earthquake warnings, high-surf advisories, nuclear power plant warnings, tsunami warnings and volcano warnings.

For example, NOAA recently completed the U.S. tsunami warning system. A series of buoys provide real-time data about tsunamis with sensors in place between Hawaii and all seismic zones that could affect the Pacific coast or the state of Hawaii. The recent completion provides advanced warning about tsunamis that could affect the western portion of the United States. The Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean have already been monitored by buoys. This final installation completes the system.

In addition to presenting weather and atmospheric forecasts on a national scale, the weather center also offers regional and local forecasts. For example, when looking at a weather map of the United States on the National Weather Service’s website, clicking on a state will take the user to a state forecast. Further, the user can click on his or her community for even more detail.

The weather center monitors just about everything imaginable involving weather systems and atmospheric conditions including UV index forecasts, hurricane outlooks, ozone summaries, drought forecasts, ocean temperatures, and tsunami waves. This information is available to everyone including the media. Weather center data is vast and complicated at times, but many of the maps are color coded with legends that help the lay person to understand what they are looking at.

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