Weather Data Collection Methods

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  • 0:00 Definition of Weather Data
  • 0:52 Data Collection Devices
  • 2:33 Satellites, Balloons,…
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

Learn how we collect weather data, which we can then use to make forecasts. Learn about the devices we use and where we place them. See how well you understand how to collect data by taking a quiz.

Definition of Weather Data

To predict the weather, we need to measure the weather. If you want to know the weather is like tomorrow, it's pretty important to know what the weather was like today and yesterday. Knowing the average weather on a particular day of the year is also useful. Collecting data every day can show you patterns and trends, and help you figure out how our atmosphere works.

Weather data includes any facts or numbers about the state of the atmosphere, including temperature, wind speed, rain or snow, humidity, and pressure. These days, we have some amazing ways to collect this kind of data. We have high-tech equipment that can measure everything with amazing accuracy. And, we can measure it from all sorts of places: the ground, the air, and even from space. In this lesson we are going to talk about some of the equipment we use to take these measurements and why making measurements from different locations is helpful.

Data Collection Devices

Meteorologists use all kinds of equipment to measure the weather. These include thermometers, radar systems, barometers, rain gauges, wind vanes, anemometers, transmissometers, and hygrometers. Let's go through them one at a time and talk about what they do.

  • Thermometers are probably the most well-known weather data device. They measure the temperature by allowing a liquid inside the thermometer to expand as it gets hotter and contract as it gets cooler. There are also digital thermometers in wide use.
  • Radar systems are used to create maps of rain and snow and measure the motion of rain clouds. This works by bouncing radio waves off the clouds and measuring how long it takes for them to return.
  • Barometers are devices that measure the pressure in the atmosphere. Pressure is how thick the air is: how much air can be found in a particular volume. For example, the higher up a mountain you go, the less air there is. These devices can be quite simple and generally involve a liquid which gets pushed up or down an inverted tube depending on how strong the atmospheric pressure is.
  • Rain gauges are also very simple, and measure how much rain falls into a container.
  • Wind vanes are simple sails that get pushed by the wind to show the wind speed. These work alongside anemometers, which measure wind speed by catching the wind in a cup-shaped container causing a dial to turn.
  • Transmissometers measure visibility by shining a laser through the air and detecting how much light is lost. For example, if there is thick fog the visibility will be particularly low.
  • Last of all, hygrometers measure the humidity (how much water the air contains) at a particular location. They work in lots of different ways, but one way is by measuring how easily the air conducts electricity, since water conducts electricity better than air itself.

Satellites, Balloons, Aircraft, and Stations

Satellites are man-made objects orbiting the earth and watching it from space. They are used to measure the size and motion of clouds and precipitation. Satellites designed for weather data collection typically contain cameras and radar systems.

Weather balloons are floating helium-filled balloons containing weather equipment. They're made of latex and are most often used to measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and wind speed. They're allowed to float along with the wind so that we know what the wind speed is. Aircraft can be used in similar ways, though without the benefit of measuring wind speed.

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