Hurricane season is in full swing, and the Atlantic is raging. If you live on the coast, you owe it to yourself to pay attention to what storms are out there, where they’re headed, and what the impacts could be.
Whether you’re new to hurricane watching or a weather geek, Earther has you covered. These are the definitive sources and handy tools to have at your disposal to know what’s going on when the tropics get roaring, as well as where to find the most jaw-dropping images of nature’s cyclonic terrors.
The National Hurricane Center is the gold standard one-stop shop for information on specific storms, from when they have a chance of forming up to where they’ll come ashore. There are maps, there are words, there are technical discussions, there are lay people discussions. There is A Lot, but it’s all relevant if you’re in the path of a hurricane or tropical storm, so bookmark it.
Among the many things you’ll find on this website: Information on where watches and warnings have been issued, forecasts for wind speed, forecasts for rainfall totals, and forecasts for storm surge. The latter two are particularly important since water is the deadliest part of a hurricane despite, the fact that the Saffir Simpson scale used to classify hurricane categories is only based on wind. But that’s a topic for a whole other post. Onwards!
Colorado State University may be landlocked, but it offers one of the best ways to see hurricanes from space. The Satellite Loop Interactive Data Explorer in Real-time (dubbed SLIDER because every good research tool needs an acronym) visualizes data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) GOES 16 and 17 weather satellites, which together cover the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific, in near-real time. That includes views of the big picture as well as “floaters,” weather geekspeak for zoomed in views on tropical storms. Bonus points: it includes Pacific imagery from Japan’s Himawari-8 satellite so you can track tropical cyclones on the other side of the world, too.
If you want a peek under the hood at how the National Hurricane Center makes its forecast, check out the weather models on Tropical Tidbits. The site is maintained Levi Cowan, a meteorology graduate student at Florida State University, and it is deep. You’ve got models, sets of models known as ensembles, Hurricane Hunter tracks and data collected by the brave souls at NOAA who fly into tropical storms for science. And Cowan uploads discussions of the storms. Another great spot to see model runs is wx.graphics.
It’s all super insightful, but a word of caution about models if you’re not a meteorologist: They’re helpful but they aren’t a forecast. Forecasts are created by people who understand what they’re looking at across the models and work to find the best solution. So do not take what you see in one particular model run as gospel or make a plan based on it. Listen to the professionals.
Satellites are cool and all, but there’s a much closer source of space wonderment. The International Space Station has a live HD camera pointed at Earth. It circles the planet every 90 minutes, which means you have an excellent chance of spotting a hurricane on the flyover. Its views really convey the immensity of storms that may get lost from the satellite snaps taken in much more distant orbits. And if you miss a pass over a storm live, don’t worry. Just watching the Earth from space live is a pretty chill treat in itself, plus astronauts frequently snap epic pictures that find their way on the station’s Twitter account.
If you like your weather presented in the style of Van Gogh, the Earth wind map is for you. It’s based on data from the American weather model known as the Global Forecast System (GFS). While it’s not as ballyhooed as its European counterpart and (again) should not be considered an official forecast, it’s still hella nice to look at. You can also overlay wind speeds at different layers of the atmosphere and ocean temperatures to get a better sense of the dynamics at play. Ventusky, a Czech meteorology firm, offers a similarly spellbinding map.
It may sound decidedly less cool than the wind map and hurricanes from space, but I can’t stress enough how important these folks are as resources. They’re the closest thing you’re going to get to a scientist in your living room. They know how to read models, they know your region, and they understand the specific risks hurricanes can pose to towns or, say, your nearest industrial hog farm. If you don’t own a television (raises hand), you can almost certainly find them on Twitter. Many also have blogs on their station website.
A number of local news sites also have a weather section. Capital Weather Gang is the pioneer for the Washington, D.C. metro area but plenty of other places have their own version (the Roanoke Times has Weather Journal run by seasoned meteorologist Kevin Myatt for example).
Ditto for your local National Weather Service (NWS) office. These folks work tirelessly during storms, and their sole mission is to provide “weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy.” So listen to them, don’t give them too much grief if the forecast doesn’t pan out, and maybe even send them pizza when the clouds blow over and the waters recede.