Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, José, and Katia- four major hurricanes all occurring in the same month- have been causing many of us to think more about the weather and wonder what is going on with our climate. Even people who are not normally interested in climate science have been regularly tracking the storms. Whether you’re an amateur meteorologist or a casual observer, there is a wealth of climate and weather data available at your fingertips online. For a great explanation of the difference between “weather” and “climate”, check out this NASA website or this National Ocean Service website.
The most popular weather forecast website that we are all familiar with is www.weather.com, the website of The Weather Channel. Weather.com is a great website and they have great mobile apps. In fact, it is what I use myself most often. However, the official weather data and forecasts come from the National Weather Service, which can be found at www.weather.gov (notice the .com and .gov difference). The National Weather Service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (or NOAA), is the official authority on anything weather-related. On either weather.com or weather.gov, you can type in a location or find a location on a map, and see its current weather conditions, forecast, and radar map.
Weather.com also has a Hurricane Central page, with special storm tracking pages for each storm with all sorts of data, like this page for Hurricane Irma. The National Weather Service also has its own Hurricane Action page, with information on how to prepare and remain safe during a storm. NOAA also has the National Hurricane Center page, with forecasts, data and tools, educational resources, and data archives and publications.
If you want to dig deeper into our climate and historical weather records, NOAA has vast amounts of that kind of data. You can find it at the National Centers for Environmental Information, the NOAA Data Catalog, and www.climate.gov, just to name a few. Whether you’re the captain of a ship needing to analyze a nautical chart or a scientist researching what mud in the Arctic can tell us about climate change, you can find data on those subjects on the many NOAA websites. Like any organization that has a lot of information it needs to archive and make available, NOAA even has its own library for NOAA employees all over the country.
Easy access to this kind of information is very important. If you are a scientist, you need it to do your job and inform policy makers about our environment. If you are a regular non-scientist person, your curiosity about our climate is just as important. Scientific data like this is important public information. Within days of his inauguration, President Trump’s administration ordered the removal of the climate change page from the United States Environmental Protection Agency website. You can compare the current website with the version from the day before the inauguration to see the removal. After President Trump’s inauguration, groups of scientists, tech professionals, and librarians formed to download all of this climate data and make it available on other sites, in an effort to preserve it from deletion. Many news articles on the subject can be found on the University of Pennsylvania’s DataRefuge page. The University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Project in Environmental Humanities (PPEH) partnered with the newly formed Environmental Data and Governance Initiative (EDGI), as well as a group of librarians (the Librarians+ Network), to download as much climate data as they could from government websites and make it available on the Climate Mirror website. If you would like to become involved in these climate data preservation efforts, you can learn more on the DataRefuge page. You might think that none of this affects you, but if climate data disappears, then we will no longer be able to predict the patterns of future hurricanes or prepare for them. As residents of a low-lying coastal community, this is important to all of us.