Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Nice Thermometer Dial—tiptoeing onto the metric scale

Most everyone knows that 0° C = 32° F and 100° C = 212° F, and maybe -40° C = -40° F.

But I must admit to just realizing that there are some other easy ones as well. Namely for any temperature T = 10x °C (x a digit), we have F = 18T + 32, which are all whole digits. Thus a nice new few to learn, so we can watch the Canadian weather reports and know what the temperature is... not to mention getting in step with the rest of the world. This dial emphasizes these points.

 -40C = -40F
 -30C = -22F
-20C = -4F
 -10C = -14F
  0C = 32F
 10C = 50F
 20C = 68F
 30C = 86F
  40C = 104F
  50C = 122F

We call this the "Easy Conversion Scale." We have it on the small steel frame thermometers that match our high precision hygrometer in the steel cases  ...and we recommend it for all future thermometer dials made for use in the US!

Monday, May 28, 2012

How to overlay ASCAT Winds and Weather Maps on Google Earth

I will come back and explain this later, but for now here are examples. Might want to view just one of the ASCAT data sets at a time overlaid on the map.  Note we need to explain the timing. These are  not all at the same times.

With GE installed on your computer you can download these and double click to load into GE. They will then automatically update every time you open them to take a look.  Very slick...  hope it works!

Florda waters ascending

Florida waters descending

Unified analysis map of Florida waters

more to follow...

Saturday, May 26, 2012

ASCAT Notes and References

We are working on updating our presentation of satellite wind measurements and their use for practical marine weather.  As we go though this we have compiled a long list of valuable references that we cannot include directly in our study materials, so we will list them here for interested readers. As time goes by, we will fill in sections of this article with comments and new links.

(1) We start with a schematic video from EUMETSAT the folks who developed the program.  There is no audio with it. It is a bit clunky, but shows the principle once loaded. You immediately see the main difference between ASCAT and the former QuikSCAT. ASCAT has a different type of scatterometer which cannot sample the ocean directly below it. Thus there is a "nadir gap" in the data swath. This makes it rather difficult to predict precisely when we will get the next useful pass, but we are working on ways to solve that. We already have ways that work to within 2 hr.

(2) Next a very nice ASCAT overview from Ross Van Til at Colorado State University.

(3) The place you get the data from the US Ocean Surface Winds Team.

(4) Another source of ASCAT winds in a sense more primary as they are the agency that analyzes the data for Eurometsat.  Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KMNI).

(5) NOAA Coastwatch has very nice maps but takes some clicking around to them… i.e. Data Access/Select a Region (confirm it offers Surface Winds) then choose Surface Wind/ ASCAT/ Metop-2 (same as Metop-A)/date.  Then click that for a zoom. If it does not zoom, right click and say open in new tab/window. 

Note 1. Coastwatch is oceanography oriented, and oceanographers show wind arrows backwards! i.e. their arrows point to the direction the wind comes from.  if they show a SW wind, it is actually a NE wind.  the price we pay for beauty.

Note 2. Coastwatch tells you the approximate time of the pass, but not precisely, so (3) or (4) remain best practical sources.

(6) Main source of data if you have the right tech software to view this raw data (NASA JPL).

(7) How to overlay ASCAT winds (and wx maps) onto Google Earth.

More to follow...

So far the best reference we know for the practical application of satellite winds is our own book Modern Marine Weather. Which is also available as an inexpensive pdf ebook,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

It's Raining… What does that mean?

There is an easy answer, and I think everyone would get it right!

But without more information, we don't really know much about this rain or what it might imply. For beneficial marine weather work, or even for planning picnics, we need to know more about how rain is defined. In fact, the first thing we learn is that the water falling from the sky is not always "rain."

Part 1. Terminology

Checking with the National Weather Service we find there are effectively three categories of liquid precipitation: rain, drizzle, and showers, and each of these is further categorized by duration and intensity. The definitions have evolved because they are crucial to the understanding and application of this precipitation to weather analysis—or to picnic planning or to agriculture, or perhaps even to the existence of life on this planet. In short, it can be important.

Some sources argue there are only two categories, drizzle and rain, but our exposure to the science is mostly from forecasts and these refer to either rain or showers stressing or implying an important distinction between the two. I don't recall seeing any forecasts for drizzle, but we do get forecasts for thunderstorms, which bring “heavy rain.” Periodically we might see drizzle referred to as “mist” when it reduces the visibility to below

The definitions

Rain. Precipitation in the form of liquid water droplets greater than 0.5 mm (0.02 inches) in diameter. If the drops are widely scattered, the drop size may be smaller.

Light rain. Rate of fall greater than a trace and up to 0.10 inch an hour, but not more than 0.01 inches in 6 minutes.

The Observer's Handbook adds: Scattered drops that do not completely wet an exposed surface, regardless of duration, [up to] to a condition where individual drops are easily seen; slight spray is observed over the decks; puddles form slowly; sound on roofs ranges from slow pattering to gentle swishing; steady small streams may flow in scuppers and deck drains.
Visibility 1 km (0.5 nmi) or more.

Moderate rain. Rate of fall is between 0.11 to 0.30 inch per hour, but not more tan 0.03 in 6 minutes.

The Observer's Handbook adds: Individual drops are not clearly identifiable; spray is observable just above deck and other hard surfaces; puddles form rapidly; sound on roofs ranges from swishing to gentle roar.
Visibility less than 1 km (0.5 nmi) but not less than 0.5 km (0.25 nmi, 550 yds).

Heavy rain. Rate of fall greater than 0.30 inches per hour.

The Observer's Handbook adds: Rain seemingly falls in sheets; individual drops are not identifiable; heavy spray to height of several inches is observed over hard surfaces; visibility is greatly reduced; sound on roofs resembles roll of drums or distant roar.
Visibility less than 0.5 km (0.25 nmi, 550 yds).

Sometimes rain is further characterized by its duration.

Continuous rain. Intensity changes gradually, if at all.

Intermittent rain. Intensity changes gradually, if at all, but precipitation stops and starts at least once within the hour preceding the observation.

Drizzle. Uniform precipitation composed exclusively of fine drops (diameter less than 0.5 mm or 0.02 inch) very close together. Drizzle appears to float while following air currents, although unlike fog droplets, drizzle falls to the ground. Drizzle drops are too small to appreciably disturb still water puddles.

Showers. Precipitation from a convective cloud (cumuliform) that is characterized by its sudden beginning and ending, changes in intensity, and rapid changes in the appearance of the sky. The implication here is that “rain” in contrast comes from stratiform clouds (nimbostratus).

Thunderstorms. Though thunderstorms are often foretasted without reference to rain, it is implied that they will most likely bring heavy rain. Thunderstorms are a result of cumulonimbus clouds, which by their vary name means rain. There are of course smaller squalls with only moderate rain, or you may meet a squall stage with just light rain left over, and there is a category of squalls, low precipitation (LP) supercells, that do not have much liquid rain at all, but generally we can safely assume that a forecast with thunderstorms means that somewhere in the region it will have heavy rain, but it will be just underneath these cumulus clouds.

The affected area of convective weather (showers and thunderstorms) is given as:

Isolated. 10 to 20% of the forecast zone. Same as “few.”

Scattered. 30 to 50% of the forecast zone.

Numerous. 60 to 70% of the forecast zone.

Likely. Greater than 80% of the forecast zone.

Measurable precipitation means a total of at least 0.01 inch (ie the first tip of a tipping bucket rain gauge, which are calibrated in 0.01 inches per tip)

Probability of precipitation (PoP). See PoP Explained. To actually see these numbers forecasted you need to view the hourly weather graph on a standard NWS forecast page. See Work Horses and Secret Sources.


NWS rain symbols. I have added the red to emphasize the intensities of the rain, which follow the definitions above. We will follow up with more discussion of these later. Note they use the word "slight" for "light." It means the same, and everywhere else they use "light." A simple confusion that is maintained by the government as a way to support navigation schools. The word "violent" in code 83 is unique. If you have been in a tropical squall you will  know the term. It is essentially heavy rain in strong wind.

Stand by for more discussion of rain intensity and now to identify it.

Looking ahead, you might find interesting the great data from UW rain guages at Select Cumulative Rain at the ATG building roof at UW and other options of choice, and compare with forecasts and reports over the same period. We will be doing some of that in following articles.

We have also ordered a precision rain gauge for Starpath and we will link it to a video camera so we can get some practical feeling for what different levels of rain looks like.

Dec 25, 2012 UPDATE: Part 2 is now online.


National Weather Service Observer's Handbook No. 1—Ships Synoptic Code and Observing Methods, 2-50 May 2010 (online in full)

Weather of the Pacific Northwest by Cliff Mass, UW Press, 2008 

Modern Marine Weather by David Burch, Starpath Publications, 2008

Monday, May 21, 2012

Refraction in a sink

Refraction plays a key role in celestial navigation because starlight coming in from the vacuum of outer space bends when it enters the atmosphere. The speed of light is slower in air, so the light bends (refracts), and as a result all the stars we see are actually not quite as high as they appear. We then apply a refraction correction to get them back to the right angle.

It is easy to see this effect in a bathroom sink by adjusting your sight angle to just not see the drain, then turn on the water and fill the sink, as shown below.

You are seeing the light bend toward you as it leaves the water surface.  Then let the water run out and the drain goes away.  Seems a nice way to demonstrate this effect.


Below is a schematic illustrating how this takes place, but as always with some hand waving needed to skip over  more fundamental issues. We think of light as a wave, with the lines AB being a wave front.  A fundamental point is light travels faster in air than in water.

 When the A1 side of the wave hits the surface and enters the air, the B1 side is still under  water. The A1 side starts to move faster now than the B1 side. So by the time B1 reaches B2, A1 has traveled quite a bit farther up to A2, and thus the wave front bends at the surface.

This simple picture shows why the angle you look at the drain (or star) makes a big difference. Look straight down at the drain (straight up to a star) and of course you do not see any change.  Light will always bend away from the surface entering into the faster medium