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Weatherwise or Otherwise

By David Mendosa


"Some are weatherwise,
  Some are otherwise."

Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack

A nother sunny day in paradise?" Or, "Aren't there any seasons here?" We've all heard these stereotypes about our weather. But even here in sunny Southern California the weather keeps changing. Those of us who live here know that's just its nature. Why else would we talk about liquid sunshine?

These days some people are doing more than talking about the weather. They've found new and creative ways to package and sell it. A key element in the success of USA Today as a national newspaper, for example, is its colorful map and detailed weather information. It seems that more weather information is available everywhere you look, from the local newspaper to the news radio to the television tube.

The only problem is in finding up-to-date information when you want it. Fortunately, the solution is as close at hand as your radio, your telephone, or your computer.

For many people the best choice will be a radio station that calls itself KIH34. In the first place, if you have the right equipment, it's free. This is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration station broadcasting at 162.400 MHz from Broadcast Peak near Santa Barbara. It broadcasts local weather information non-stop. The KIH34 weather report is also comprehensive. It covers not only air and water temperatures and chance of rain but also barometric pressure, wind direction and speed, small craft, wind, and weather advisories, and extended forecasts.

Even if you don't have electricity, you can still receive KIH34. Of course everybody has electricity--except when you are in your car, your boat, out hiking, etc. If you want to get weather information in those places, KIH34 is still available. All you will need is what electronics buffs call a portable weather radio or a portable scanning receiver (or scanner, but not to be confused with a computer peripheral of the same name).

The inexpensive weather radio is a gadget that's limited to the three frequencies that NOAA uses to broadcast weather information throughout the country (the other two frequencies, not heard locally, are 162.450 MHz and 162.550 MHz).

A scanner is a type of radio that lets you listen in on police, fire, and other public service broadcasts in VHF and UHF bands. You can listen to over 800 frequencies locally, and one of them is the weather report on KIH34 at 162.400 MHz.

One other source of weather information on the radio is inherently less local. With a shortwave radio you can get weather information for both the North Pacific and North Atlantic areas on the two National Institute of Standards and Technology time signal stations we receive locally. These are WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado, and WWVH, in Kekaha, Kauai, Hawaii. At WWV a male announcer broadcasts weather information between the 8th and 11th minute after the hour. At WWVH a female announcer broadcasts the weather between the 48th and 51st minute after the hour.

Since short waves are propagated better after dark, these stations come in clearer then. These stations broadcast on many different frequencies, all of them easy to remember numbers. You will probably find that in the late evening WWV comes in clearly at 5,000 kHz and WWVH a little less clearly at 10,000 kHz. During daylight hours your best chance for good reception is WWV at 15,000 kHz.

If you have cable television, you can get continuous weather information on the Weather Channel.

With a touch tone telephone you have even more choices for weather information. Most of these choices, however, cost money, either in long distance charges or 900 number surcharges.

USA Today capitalizes on its experience with delivering catchy weather information in daily print by taking it one step further. Now, you can call their 900 number for what is probably the slickest approach to delivering the weather report. They call it "Weather Track." Their number is (900) 370-USAT or in numbers (900) 370-8728. You start by entering the area code of the city for which you want weather information. To get Santa Barbara's weather punch in 805 and then 2 for Santa Barbara (1 is for Bakersfield). The report is comprehensive with temperature, relative outdoor temperature, cloud cover, wind direction and speed, relative humidity, and barometric pressure. Beyond that, it includes the following day's and extended forecasts as well as road conditions and average highs and lows and chance of rain.

Another 900 number, this one run by Accu-weather, Inc., and sponsored by American Express, has similar but less comprehensive information. You can reach them by calling (900) WEATHER or in numbers (900) 932-8437. With this service after entering the 805 area code, you obtain Santa Barbara weather information by punching in the first three letters of its name, in other words SAN or 726. Besides temperature, cloud cover, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, and chance of rain, this report also has something they call the "heat index" as well as the forecast for the following day.

A call to Los Angeles or Santa Maria will also get you a 24-hour recording of National Weather Service information. These numbers are (213) 554-1212 and (805) 925-0909.

Even computer networks have gotten into the act. If you have a computer and a modem, you can call the biggest of these services, the Internet. Several forecasts are available, but I prefer the official one from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), because it can be localized. The URL for the Santa Barbara area is http://www.nnic.noaa.gov/cgi-bin/forecast.do-it?search=Santa+Barbara&html=yes&area=Local&state=California. Then, there is WeatherNet, which calls itself the Internet's premier source of weather links. The last time I looked it had more than 200. Its URL is http://cirrus.sprl.umich.edu/wxnet/.

If you have an account with CompuServe, you can get a similar report of local weather information on your monitor. At the CompuServe prompt just type the letters WEA. The system automatically selects the local forecast based on the local number you're dialing. To get a forecast from a different area, just type WEA and the city, postal abbreviation for the state or WEA and city airport code.

The Prodigy service also has weather information on line. To look at Santa Barbara's weather just type w santa barbara. This presents the report for the current date as well as the forecast for three days into the future. Accu-weather is the source of Prodigy's information.

Sailors and aircraft pilots are two groups of people requiring even more specialized and detailed weather information. The Waterfront Department of the City of Santa Barbara has a 24-hour recording on 962-0782. Besides the usual weather report, it's the place to call to find the water temperature, the time and height of the tides, and when the sun rises and sets. The National Weather Service and the University of Southern California also have a 24- hour recording of marine weather on a Los Angeles number, (213) 477-1463.

But where can you find out how much it rained last night, if such a blessed event would indeed occur? For such information, human voices are ready to answer your question. They are at the two locations in the area where we maintain official rain gauges. These are the Wastewater Treatment Plant and Gibraltar Dam. Their numbers are 966-5597 and 682-4451 respectively. People working there tell me they will be glad to tell you how much liquid sunshine fell last night on our paradise by the Pacific.

An edited version of this article appeared as "Which Way Is The Weather?" Commerce, February 1991, page 14.

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Last modified: March 18, 1996

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