If you're like me, and I sincerely hope you're not, the job of obsessing about our winter weather involves occasional glances out the window coupled with marathon sessions geeking out over weather forecasts and staring at radar loops and puzzling over terminology like 500-millibar heights and total precipitable water. While we wait to see how this whole El Niño winter pans out in California, here's a brief list of sites that prove consistently useful, interesting and fun.
So, starting with stuff that you can spend hours, maybe, just staring at and playing with: Cameron Beccario's Earth, a site that turns raw data from weather observations and models into dynamic portraits of current and upcoming weather. There is a lot to the visualizations here -- you need to open the controls under the label "earth" at the pages lower left to get an idea of the different slices of data and views available here. A newer site based on Beccario's open-source code and similar weather model input is Windytv.com -- embedded at the top of the post -- which is geared toward delivering observations and forecasts that people like pilots, kitesurfers and other adventurers can use.
National Weather Service, San Francisco Bay Area/Monterey: A one-stop shop for the basics -- everything from hourly rainfall reports and climatology for the Bay Area locations to weather radar. The site's indispensable feature -- one common to every local National Weather Service office -- is its Area Forecast Discussion. In essence, it's a forecaster's narrative of the reasoning behind the current outlook and includes details about timing of storms that are often obscure in the simple forecast. (For similar insights into the Sierra Nevada weather outlook -- especially how much snow to expect in the mountains and when -- check out the NWS Sacramento forecast discussion.)
California-Nevada River Forecast Center: This site contains an almost limitless reservoir of data on precipitation -- both what's forecast to fall and what's coming -- and on near-real-time river conditions for California, Nevada and southern Oregon. A couple of favorite features to navigate to on the CNRFC home page: The Forecast Precipitation (QPF) and Observed Precipitation (QPE) pages, both of which open from tabs on the page's right side. Those pages give a comprehensive picture of California precipitation for the past five days and coming six days. If you're into the text discussion thing, the CNRFC's daily Hydrometeorological Discussion gives a quick rundown of storm impacts in major watersheds and a thorough forecast analysis based on numerical weather models.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center: A portal for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's precipitation and temperature outlooks for periods ranging from the next six to 10 days to three months. The CPC's maps give a quick overview of expected precipitation patterns and whether a given region is expected to get above or below median rainfall. For the details, and to understand exactly what's being forecast, it's necessary to read the prognostic discussion that's published in concert with the shorter-term maps.
California Weather Blog: This is a site featuring technical model analysis by Daniel Swain, the Stanford doctoral candidate who coined the term "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" to describe the persistent dome of high pressure that blocked most winter storms from reaching California each of the last two winters. Swain doesn't add to the blog often, but his posts draw wide attention and lots and lots of comments -- an online conversation that he participates in. Also worth following: Swain's Twitter feed.
- OpenSnow.com/Tahoe Daily Snow: A smart, well-written site with a simple, straightforward mission: detailed snow forecasts for the Sierra Nevada around Lake Tahoe (it turns out people like to partake in winter sports up there -- things like skiing and snowboarding and chaining up while they sit in I-80 and U.S. 50 traffic).
- Golden Gate Weather Services: Jan Null, a consulting meteorologist and proprietor of Golden Gate Weather Services, has long been the go-to source for journalists looking for insight into Bay Area weather. He's amassed a staggering volume of information on his website, ranging from San Francisco's complete monthly rainfall record going back to 1849 to an explainer on the myths and realities of El Niño. One caveat: While we've found lots of cool stuff here -- hey, look at this tabular history of San Francisco rainfall, sorted by season, total amount and days of rain! -- the site is actually a little hard to navigate.
- American Meteorology Society's Glossary of Meteorology: I mentioned precipitable water somewhere up above. If you really want to know what that is -- or find the meanings of thousands of other meteorological terms, many of which include math stuff that's beyond me -- this is the place.