Saturday, April 30, 2005

Weather Cams

By Melissa A. Popp

Weather cams are one of the neatest ideas in the history of mankind. Just think about it: It doesn't matter where in the world you live, you can bring every single type of weather condition into your home with a few clicks and searches on your computer. Live weather, as it's happening, in your home via a video feed through a digital camera or web camera.

More often than not, weather cams are being used even by professionals, to show time-lapse conditions or what's going on in your neck of the woods. You can even do a search on Google ( for "weather cams" and a plethora of web sites will come up that will have you seeing rain in the Amazon, sandstorms in the Sahara and snow in the Andes within minutes.

Turn on your local news, and if you live near a big city, the weatherman will probably defer to a web cam during live feeds to show just how the weather has changed over the day. Sometimes they use them cameras to also showcase current conditions and give people a first hand look at what the weather is doing as it's happening. This can help people who might be watching television in a basement or other place where you can't look outside a chance to prepare for when they head outside for their day.

In many cases, these weather cams are also used for educational purposes. This can happen in two ways: Many college's meteorological majors will use weather cams to both predict and study weather patterns during a given day and elementary school children will learn about the weather in a general sense by viewing real conditions around the world.

In the first case, meteorological students will use web cams to help predict forecasts when they first begin to learn how to do so. They can study, online, a variety of different conditions from around the world and make predictions on all aspects of the weather as it's happening. This gives them real world experience while giving them the chance to work with new technology that they will no doubt be engaging in when they head out to predict the weather for real.

Then, in the second instance, where elementary students are given the chance to watch real weather conditions as opposed to videos or pictures of such conditions, they are able to actually see what it's like instead of just imagining what it's like. This subtle difference can mean a lot when it comes to the weather and its habit of being unpredictable.

Weather cams are even beginning to be used in weather balloons and other instances where they can monitor certain happenings, such as hurricanes and tornadoes, in ways that humans just can't do on their own. During flights to see the eye of hurricanes, planes will often equip themselves with video cameras and these types of weather cams to maintain a constant video feed as they take footage to help meteorologists determine important facts and predictions about its force, size and direction. One thing that makes a weather cam better than a video camera is that often a weather cam can tap directly into the internet whereas a video camera, if it's not hooked up to a computer on the internet, would have to be uploaded to the world wide web. This is an inefficient use of time, especially if a big hurricane is coming stateside, and data is needed immediately to plot a course.

As you can see, weather cams have a wide variety of uses. "Web cams" are no longer just for being voyeurs in someone's bedroom; they are impacting the weather in positive ways for millions of people around the world. Next time you watch the local news, see if your station has a weather cam, and if they do, enjoy not having to be out in those storm clouds!

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