Weather. It is that fail-safe topic that we revert to when we have nothing else to discuss at a party or while making small talk with a stranger. But for some of us, tracking it is a hobby. Weather watchers across the country are an enthusiastic group that finds barometric pressure and precipitation totals anything but small talk to pass the time. Tracking habits can range from casually observing a home weather station to keeping detailed notes on daily conditions, much like Thomas Jefferson used to do at Monticello.

Meteorology Manual
Getting started as a weather watcher is not that hard and you do not need to take a class in meteorology to understand the basic concepts behind what drives our weather. The basics are covered nicely on’s weather education page. But if you do want a more in-depth understanding of the science behind the weather, you can pick up a used meteorology textbook from most online book stores or browse the library’s shelves. If you look around 551.5 in the non-fiction section, you will find general books on weather as well as books on specific phenomena such as tornadoes. One recent title that is worth taking a look at for both novice and seasoned weather watchers is Meteorology Manual by Storm Dunlop. In addition to covering the basics of the atmosphere and weather, the book includes observation tips for those getting started as a weather watcher.

Researching the weather online has to start with the Weather Underground page, which includes much more than the current conditions and 10 day forecast. The historical data set goes back to 1945 and includes not only the temperatures and observed conditions, but an hour-by-hour breakdown of those conditions. The site also features informative blogs, articles and infographics on all aspects of the weather. The video and photo section includes a series of videos designed to teach you the basics about weather, so if you prefer to watch videos instead of reading, this is the place to turn. Finally, the personal weather station network on Weather Underground is one of the largest on the internet. You can register your backyard weather station or just take a look at what ones hosted by your neighbor are reporting.

Snowy Road

As for deploying a weather station and monitoring the conditions in your backyard, weather stations can range from a simple set-up to a more complex near-professional style arrangement. The basic weather stations will record temperature and humidity and can be paired with a basic rain gauge for less than $100. The mid-level systems can run anywhere from $100-$300 and often include a gauge for temperature, humidity, rainfall, and wind direction and speed. Some of them come with basic software so you can download stored recordings to your computer. The more professional models can cost up to $1500 for highly calibrated instruments that can also record UV index or calculate wind chill and heat index, and a fully wireless system that reports to your computer as well as online databases. In all cases, the stations typically consist of two parts, the indoor monitoring station and a set of battery-powered outdoor instruments that report back to the indoor station via radio waves. The indoor station is what connects to a PC or wireless network if equipped to do so. The main manufactures of these devices are Davis, AcuRite and La Crosse. The La Crosse line is also often sold under different brand names, such as The Weather Channel. One key to getting started is once you pick a station, make sure you have a good location to set-up the instruments, such as a shaded area for the temperature gauge or a clearing for the rain and wind gauges, so trees or overhangs do not cut down on their ability to collect rain.


If you do not want to set-up your own weather station, but keep tabs on local weather watchers and forecasters, there are a few online sites and blogs to check out. One is WeatherNJ, which has evolved out of a Facebook page run by Jonathan Carr, who has an uncanny track record for forecast accuracy but will also explain the science behind the forecast in plain English. For a more regional site covering the Northeast, you can check out the Weather Willy blog, which also tends to present information in an easy-to-understand manner along with some predictions. A third option in the NJWeatherBlogs maintained by Jeff Beyerle, which is currently undergoing a redo so the forums are down but the blog is updated regularly and there is an active twitter and Facebook page, along with companion apps for iOS and Android. Finally, there is The Edge Weather, which is run by Mark Edgerton. This straightforward blog presents Edgerton’s current observations and forecasts and includes a handy key terms dictionary.

-Laura N.


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