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Engineering LibreTexts

2.1: Background

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  • NOAA is a scientific agency within the United States Department of Commerce that focuses on the conditions of oceans, major waterways, and the atmosphere. As such NOAA is a major supplier of ocean and atmospheric data, a provider of stewardship services, and a major player in related research. <>

    The National Weather Service or NWS <> is a division of NOAA tasked with providing weather forecasts, hazardous weather warnings, and other weather products to business, public agencies, and the public for protection, safety and general information.

    Since weather transcends national boundaries NWS frequently teams with sister agencies throughout the world through the World Meteorological Organization or WMO <>. The WMO is an agency within the United Nations mandated to facilitate the flow of meteorological and climatic data between nations and provide a framework for international cooperation in related research.

    Data accumulated by NOAA, NWS, WMO, and other related organizations is accumulated by several key tools. These include the following.

    • Ground-based weather station are collections of fixed weather instruments that monitor air temperature, precipitation, wind speed and velocity, and humidity. Specialized stations also include devices for measuring solar radiation, cloud height and types, percent sky cover, and snow depth. Such stations regularly appear at airports, government buildings, schools and research centers.
    • Doppler radar is a form of ground-based radar that is able to detect oncoming precipitation, determine what type of precipitation it is, and measure wind velocity. NEXRAD (Next Generation Radar) obtains all three types of data and so is often used to detect and analyze oncoming storm systems
    • Weather buoys are floating instrument packages that are either moored along coastlines or able to drift with ocean currents. Since many storms originate offshore, weather buoys and satellites are key components of storm early warning systems.
    • Airborne weather platforms include weather balloons or weather instruments mounted on aircraft. Data from these platforms is particularly important since the atmosphere and the weather taking place in it is three dimensional.
    • Satellites are essentially orbital weather stations able to visualize large sections of the atmosphere. In addition to tracking the movement of large storm systems, satellites are able to measure wind velocity and direction at different heights within the atmosphere, track the concentration and movement of significant gasses like CO2 and water vapor, and track the flow of energy into and out of the atmosphere.

    In this activity set you will be looking at information derived from a single ground-based station, an NWS facility at the international airport in Portland Oregon. Much of what you will be looking at is raw data that includes the following.

    • Air temperature (AT) – The temperature of air in a shaded location that is approximately 2 m above ground level.
    • Relative humidity (%RH) – The amount of water vapor in the air relative to how much it can hold at a given temperature.
    • Dew point temperature (DPT) – The temperature air needs to be cooled (at a constant pressure) for it to reach RH = 100%.
    • Wind speed (WS) – The average speed of the wind over a given period of time such as 15 minutes or half an hour
    • Wind gust (WG) – The maximum wind speed recorded during a given period of time.
    • Precipitation (Pct) – This is the amount of rain, snow, sleet, or hail that collects in a standardized container during a given period of time – In the case of the data you will be looking at this is volume of precipitation that collects in one hour.
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