How and where weather forecasts are made in Southern Utah

Punxsutawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter for 2017. Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania, Feb. 2, 2009 | Photo courtesy of Alessandro M. (CC BY 2.0), St. George News
ST. GEORGE — Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted six more weeks of winter, but Staten Island Chuck, a groundhog who resides in the Staten Island Zoo in New York, predicts an early spring this year. Buckeye Chuck, a groundhog in Marion, Ohio, and Woody the Woodchuck at the Howell Nature Center in Howell, Michigan, on the other hand, agree with Punxsutawney Phil that winter isn’t over yet.

Hold on. Back up a moment. Aside from the fun of bringing these animals to the forefront every year, we’re putting our trust in groundhogs and woodchucks for our weather forecasts?

Of course not. Weather forecasting and climate studies have made meteoric advances in the last 100 years and continue to improve every year. While the rodent roulette every year may be entertaining, the weather forecasting that takes place every day of the year is a serious business.

Where does the weather forecast come from? Most of the time what we see comes directly from the National Weather Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

National Weather Service spokesperson Alex Lukinbeal in Salt Lake City said the forecasts you see every day and evening in Utah come from his office. Those forecasts are made after studying the reports of weather stations around the state and region.

There are three types of stations that the NWS relies on, Lukinbeal said. Those are airport stations, which are called ASOS stations, mountain stations which are called SNOTEL stations, and reports that come through the Cooperative Observer program – stations located at personal residences.

ASOS stations usually transmit readings over the internet to the NWS every minute. Generally, readings include temperature, wind speed, rainfall, visibility and relative humidity. SNOTEL stations are usually located between 3,000 feet and 5,000 feet up in the mountains; these provide information on snowfall and snowpack readings as well.

Cooperative Observer stations communicate data, usually including temperature, rainfall, and wind speed, by daily calls into the NWS by the observer. Many of the home stations are connecting to the internet as well, Lukinbeal said, allowing them to electronically send current weather information to the NWS offices.

Mesowest map of Utah shows weather data collecting stations. Click on link to see current data for any of the stations. | Image courtesy of Mesowest, St. George News

This data and visual and radar observations are distilled into a weather forecast. In Southern Utah’s case, that forecast is disseminated to the public from the Salt Lake City district office.

The three major reporting stations in St. George: The St. George Regional Airport; a site on St. George Boulevard just east of the Black Hill; and a station on 900 East and River Road.

Cedar City and Kanab both have ASOS stations located at the respective airports. Cedar City also is serviced by a Cooperative Observer station on 400 South and 4200 West and a SNOTEL station on state highway 14 about a mile west of Rusty’s Ranch House, while Kanab has a Cooperative Observer station next to Kanab High School.

Anyone can see what data the weather stations are sending to the NWS by pointing a web browser to this link. Click on the state you wish to see and move the map around. Click the “change” button at the top to reveal all the stations (as shown in the attached image). Hover your mouse over a particular station to see the latest data it has sent.

In 1993, an upstart company called The Weather Company started a website called Weather Underground. Unlike the NWS, which assimilates data from airport data, weather balloons and a network of about 10,000 volunteers around the country, Weather Underground added dozens of personal weather stations in each city to allow the forecasts and observations to be even more accurate.  The personal weather stations around the country are checked regularly by WU for accuracy and if one of those stations is out of compliance, its data will not be used.

Many other websites offer weather data. Accuweather, The Weather Channel and The Weather Network are other large-scale weather sites offering world data, conditions, and forecasts.

From early forecasting using observation of conditions only to today’s scientific forecasting utilizing the latest in radar and thousands of weather stations providing immediate data transfer, the weather is important to everyone.

From planning your family reunion picnic to snow conditions affecting a ski trip to farm owners planning the next planting season, it’s important to know what lies ahead. The NWS and other services make sure that the public is aware of changes in the weather that affect peoples lives and livelihoods.

Email: rwayman@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @NewsWayman

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • DRT February 12, 2017 at 1:18 pm

    What tickles the heck out of me, is to see the different forecasts and how they differ from each other. Looks to me like it’s kind of a crap shoot. Which weather guessers do you wish to believe?

    • DB February 12, 2017 at 4:13 pm

      Weather Channel and Weather Nation forecasts usually differ greatly. Sometimes, they can’t even agree on sunrise and sunset! I’m thinking they have different computer models and/or area coverage (square miles).

  • mmsandie February 12, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    I never could understand all the fuss but Phil is cute.. I still depend on the good ol FArmers Almanac.. The farmers have been 90% correct for over 150 yrs.. When I managed a store, people would come in fir gifts, cards, etc and ask what about certai dates tie functions. I would open the Almanac and tell them the weather. I Also use www. Weather channel.com

  • .... February 12, 2017 at 10:46 pm

    I just look outside when I want to know what the weather is like

    • Real Life February 13, 2017 at 6:42 am

      Does your mom’s basement have windows?

  • Badshitzoo February 15, 2017 at 1:38 am

    The forecast in Southern Utah is always the same: Too hot. Too cold. Too windy. And the freakin sun is always too bright because there is zero humidity in the atmosphere here!

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