As a landscape photographer, it is important to have a fairly intimate sense of the environment in which we work. Knowledge of seasonal events, topography, and the native flora and fauna, are important when planning a day in the “out of doors”. Knowledge of the weather is paramout among these.
Thus, a vital service to outdoor photographers is an accurate source of weather information. It is important for a variety of reasons, affecting both the aesthetics culture work, and your personal comfort and safety.
Understanding the character of light one will be shooting in, is extremely helpful in planning your day. An example of this is the difference between shooting on cloudy versus sunny days. On shooting days I tend to awaken early if I know that the weather will be clear. It will be worth it to drag my butt out of bed, anticipating that there will be interesting lighting at, and around sunrise. If I know it will be cloudy, I will sleep in, secure in the knowledge that the light at the more leisurely hour of say, 10:00 AM will be essentially the same as the light at 5. Understanding the weather well enough to predict a heavy fall hoar frost, or or morning fog, can open up new shooting opportunities for the intrepid photographer .
On a sunny day, I will have a selection of polarizing filters packed for various lenses I may use, on cloudy days (unless I’m shooting flowing water). I will tend to leave them at home. Again on a brightly sunny day, I will likely forgo a tripod for a more convenient monopod, as the light will be abundant, and the shutter speeds higher.
Having accurate weather information helps one to understand, how to dress, and what protective gear you will need if any, for your equipment. Different elevations will have different weather conditions on the same day, and having an information source that takes this into account can be very helpful, if not life-saving.
Having accurate and specific weather information is extremely helpful to avoid hazardous situations. If I am shooting for instance from a kayak, it is important to know whether thunderstorms may be lurking in the distance. Being caught in the middle of a large body of water during a storm featuring high winds and/or lightning can be extremely dangerous. Accurate real-time weather information is extremely helpful to avoid this.
So, needless to say, I have had a great interest in various weather services and websites (particularly the latter) over the years. It is particularly helpful, that increasingly sophisticated “smart phones” can allow us to bring that information with us when we’re in the field
The various for-profit weather services have been in him a sort of “arms race” with their websites. Unfortunately, much of the evolution of the sites I think has been to facilitate the advertising that they feature, rather than to make him more functional for users.
For the last several years, I have made use of Accuweather’s website and mobile app. This is in part because it was founded by a group of Penn State meteorologists, whom I have memories of watching as boy, when they appeared on the university’s own weather show. It is also because I have grown to dislike its main competitor, The Weather Channel and it’s constant moralizing on “global warming”, “climate change” or, whatever we’re calling it now.
The problem with both of these weather services however, is the lack of specificity of their weather reporting. Forecast and real -time temperatures for instance, will be reported as the same for both my home township, versus Wilkes-Barre, which located in the “Wyoming Valley” is between 800 and 1500 feet lower. Turns out that the major weather services recognize only the temperatures measured at our local Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Airport, which is situated at an intermediate altitude.
I live at a location that is fairly high for Pennsylvania. Temperatures at my home can be as much as 12 degrees cooler than those in the city, depending on weather conditions. Especially in the early spring and late fall, this can be the difference between a valley rain event, and significant snow in the mountains.
There are other problems. Recently Accuweather has adopted a strategy of making the “free” website extraordinarily irritating by allowing you to open advertisements by merely scrolling over them (rather than clicking on them). This makes the website very difficult to use. Featured prominently on the site however, is a “premium offering” with no advertising and a more convenient format. It is definitely more usable, and I was willing to sign up for this, but at $8 a month, it seems somewhat pricey. So I began to look for other options.
I should mention another useful weather site run by NOAA, which is www.weather.gov. This features tons of useful information on both the atmospheric and hydrologic conditions throughout the US. I particularly like the “graphical forecast “page, which has multiple weather variables which can be overlaid over a map of you region which progress as you scroll through the upcoming days and nights, giving you a good sense of when and where for instance, the rain forecast for tomorrow will start and stop.
In my search, however, for a “bread and butter” weather source, I revisited Weather Underground. In past experiences, this free site was intriguing in concept, but quirky and not very useful. It was apparently founded at the University of Michigan’s meteorology department, but the current entity is a commercial organization, that in 2012 was purchased by The Weather Channel. The infusion of cash may be the reason that it seems to have evolved.
It is based on an interesting premise, linking web-linked private weather stations, some with associated webcams into a network, allowing access to very specific weather data. Coverage is spotty, particularly in wilderness areas, but it is still more useful than the very nonspecific data offered by its parent organization and their competitors.
The website and smartphone app are now particularly useful. Once configured with your location, virtually all of the data you might need, from a radar map, current conditions, forecast trends, sunrise and sunset times, and hour-by-hour forecasting are all available at your fingertips on the main page. There is no need to scroll page- to-page like the other popular weather sites.
The site allows, you to choose a weather station that is most germane to your desired location, or will find one automatically. It also appears to base its forecast in some way, to the conditions relative to the station chosen. A weather reporting site located for instance, in Wilkes-Barre will have a different forecast high temperature, than a nearby one at higher elevation. You can store a variety of favorite weather stations for future reference.
You can choose a map showing wind speed, direction and temperature data, for all of the stations in your vicinity. Some will have webcam icons associated with them. Clicking on the icon will bring up the image in your browser. Also, the Android application that I use can locate you on a map using cell tower information, or better yet GPS. This can be very helpful, when you’re out in the wilderness, away from landmarks, and there is foul weather approaching.
The advertisements featured on the site, are not intrusive. It has a clean, uncluttered layout with large fonts, perfect for aging eyes. Much of the site can be customized to suit the user.
Weather Underground has thus become my default weather source. Its convenience is no small thing to me, and I suspect other outdoorsman, and particularly photographers, who utilize it.
I just hope The Weather Channel doesn’t screw it up.