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From Radars to an App on Your Smartphone – How Does Weather Forecasting Work?

March 18, 2021 No Comments

Featured article by Faisal Bin Iqbal 


ClimaCell is an amazing weather app. When you log into it or visit their website, you’ll find the weather forecast for the entire week, as well as that for the entire day, hour by hour. This forecast by ClimaCell comes to us in a very presentable manner, with some amazing visuals. However, very few of us are actually aware of what goes on behind the scene to get these weather forecasts. 

While some of you do have a basic understanding of how weather data is collected, you’re probably unaware of how the whole process of forecasting really works. So, to give you a brief idea, let’s take a look at how weather stations collect the data and analyze it to give us such forecasts.

Collecting the data

Various types of weather instruments collect weather data. Weather radars, however, are the most commonly used ones. Researchers and meteorologists also use satellites, buoys, and weather balloons, apart from radars, for this purpose. They deploy these instruments across various weather stations all around the world.

In most cases, these instruments send signals to the atmosphere and then receive the echoes that come back. The transmitted signals are somewhat disturbed by various particles present in the atmosphere. Once the signal returns to the radar, computers measure these disturbances, and calculate the intensity of the particles (precipitation). 

Apart from atmospheric data, the weather stations also take other factors into account. These factors include temperature, wind speed, and direction, atmospheric pressure, cloud presence, etc. Once the stations collect all this data, meteorologists then move on to the next phase, which is data analysis.

Analyzing the data

Once the data has been collected, it’s then analyzed to provide insights into the weather. 

The data is strictly numeric in nature; mostly solid numbers, or wave patterns. Either way, it’s difficult for a common person to understand some of this weather data. That’s why meteorologists use computers to interpret the data and provide us with a more ‘human-understandable version of it. Thus, when you open a weather app, you’re provided with some amazing visuals, as well as some of the more understandable numeric data.

Making the predictions

The stations make weather predictions by collecting a huge volume of weather data and then passing them through various complex equations. The results of these equations provide the forecasts. The data used for predicting future weather conditions are collected over a long period. And at present, this data is used in a variety of other ways to provide us with the final forecasts.

Computers use complex equations and weather data to simulate weather patterns. By analyzing the data, meteorologists check how the temperature, wind speed, and direction, precipitation in the atmosphere, humidity, etc. are likely to change over the day or week. Afterward, they take these changes into account and run them through the simulation. This is how weather forecasts are made.

Apart from simulations, meteorologists also study historical weather data (for instance, the weather data of a particular place for the last 10-15 years) to make predictions. Checking the past data allows meteorologists and other concerned parties to understand how the weather patterns are changing. They can then train their prediction models to incorporate these small changes with the usual weather conditions which helps generate a more accurate weather forecast.

Nowadays, thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence, incorporating these minute changes, and analyzing their impacts on the weather condition has been made much easier, and less time-consuming.

Delivering the weather news to you

Once computers or meteorologists analyze the data, it’s then made readily available to the public. Different weather forecasting apps and platforms then take this information (or collect the raw data and analyze it on their own) and distribute it to their users. Students and other researchers also use the raw data for their own studies.

Each app or platform has its unique way of presenting the data. Most of the focus is on the visual presentation of the data, and how developers can make them stand out. Many platforms allow users to integrate the weather data into their websites or apps through API integration.

All in all, these apps make weather and air quality-related information much more accessible for the public, but it all starts by sending a microwave from a ground station into outer space. The overall process taking place in the background is indeed quite mind-blowing.

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