Weather: Virtually meteorological

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The rapid growth of up-to-the-minute weather information on the World Wide Web offers any interested surfer a wide variety of possibilities. You can even take a flight through a hurricane.

There are perhaps only two things in life that move at a perfect pace for the World Wide Web. One is the game of chess, the other is the sport of weather-watching. Last week I was eagerly downloading the games from the World Teams Chess Championship - they appear on the net only seconds after they are over, or you can even watch some of them in real time - and this week I have been surfing some of the weather sites at an equally leisurely pace.

If you want hard information and a quick tutorial in all aspects of weather information gathering and forecasting, the best place to start is the Met Office at http://www.meto.gov.uk/ where you will be only one mouse click away from a short weather forecast for the next 24 hours, frequently updated, or a detailed, non-technical account of how the Met Office arrived at its forecast. (It's quite simple really, you just start with a grid that has 20 vertical levels, 217 points from pole to pole, and 288 points round each latitude circle, then you take measurements of pressure, temperature, humidity and wind at each of the grid points, than you feed the results into a supercomputer programmed with equations describing the physical processes in the atmosphere, then you ask it what everything will be like in 15 minutes, then you repeat the procedure with the new values, and continue until you're six days ahead. It all takes about a quarter of an hour.)

When you are bored with the Met Office, they even give directions to other sites, which is one way of getting to the BBC Weather Centre Internet Site on http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/ where you will find more forecasts amid a wide variety of weather-related information including some magazine items from the Weather Show (among them an account of the effects of weather conditions on drag-racing) and a history of weather forecasting from Hippocrates almost to the early days of television broadcasts. From BC to BBC, one might say. Out of respect for the BBC's sensitivity, I did not venture into their page on the Great Storm.

The British, of course, are very serious about the weather, so if you are looking for more outlandish stuff, a trip across the Atlantic is needed. Try http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet for the WeatherNet, where you will find, in addition to North American weather in impressive detail, a huge list of almost 500 weather-related sites from Accu-Weather Homepage to Zephyrus Electronics. That is how I discovered the Hurricane Hunters Home Page at http://www.hurricane.hunters.com/ where the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron - "the only Department of Defense organisation flying into tropical storms and hurricanes on a routine basis" - will take you for a virtual ride ("Please make sure your passenger has a burp bag"), right through the winds of a hurricane into the blinding white light and tranquillity of its eye.

For the serious weather follower, the message is clear: it's off with the raincoats and on with your designer anorak. A trip around the world's weather has never been easier.

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