I’m a walking, talking, texting weather resource.
Yesterday was a beautiful, clear day in central Washington, with the occasional little puffy cloud floating across the bright blue sky. It was warm in the sun, cool in the shade, and a gentle breeze kept any insects from becoming a nuisance.
A perfect day to visit with a friend down in Mattawa, a 40-minute drive south.
I was about halfway there when my phone rang. It was one of my cherry drying clients. I pulled over to make sure I didn’t lose the connection on the winding river-side road. After exchanging greetings, she asked, “So what’s the weather forecast?”
“Twenty percent chance of rain tonight and twenty percent tomorrow.”
We finished the conversation, both promising to keep an eye on the weather. I hung up and continued on my way.
You might be wondering why I knew, off the top of my head, the weather forecast for the next 24 hours. Simple: It’s part of my summer job.
My job depends on the weather. If it’s a nice day, I get the day to myself and can wander away from my base. The nicer the day, the farther I can wander. If it’s a rainy day, though, I have to hang around, waiting for a call to fly.
This means I need to know the upcoming weather all the time.
How I Track the Weather
I use five different resources to track the weather.
- The National Weather Service at weather.gov offers a 7-day forecast with “at-a-glance” graphics and a detailed textual summary. I can also click a link to get an hourly weather graph that charts percent chance of rain, percent of sky cover, temperature, humidity, wind, etc. hour-by-hour several days into the future. This is my primary source of weather forecasting information.
- When rain is in the area or on the way, I use the radar graphic at the Weather Channel to see where the rain is and which way it’s going. What I like about this particular radar graphic is that you can drag and resize the map to change the view. I can see the big picture to get an idea of how much rain is on its way and zoom in to see exactly where it’s falling. This is my primary source of current weather information when I’m in front of my computer.
- When I’m out and about and have access to the Internet, I use WeatherBug on my iPad to see weather information, including a radar graphic, forecast summary, and hour-by-hour forecast. I can also use its Webcam images to help judge visibility in the event that I need to cross the Cascades to get to Seattle. (Which I don’t usually do during the season.) WeatherBug is also available for mobile phones; I really do need to get it back on my BlackBerry.
- In the RV, I use my radio scanner to listen to weather summary and forecast information from the National Weather Service for my area. It’s basically local weather radio. It isn’t nearly as helpful as the other sources, but it does offer a good overview for my area and playing it tends to keep Alex the Bird quiet.
- I also look out the window a lot. Knowing which direction the weather usually comes from and watching the sky out that way can give me an early heads-up. This is especially useful when I’m out running errands and don’t have access to any of my other sources.
What’s amazing about the weather forecast is that it’s only accurate for a short while. Yesterday, the chance of rain this morning was 20%. When I got back from my day out, it was 30%. This morning, it was 50%. And then it started raining. It’s been raining for at least an hour and radar shows me that we could get at least an hour more of the stuff.
Knowing this can keep me out of trouble. 20% didn’t seem like much of a chance — and it isn’t. But 50% is a pretty good chance of rain. It went from 20% to 50% in less than 12 hours. So I have to constantly be checking my sources.
Today’s Weather Story
This morning, my client’s son, who manages the orchard, called. It was 7:46 AM. “What’s the weather?” he asked.
I told him what I saw on radar: a long line of rain showers stretching all the way from southwest of Portland to us, moving our way. “It’s raining here,” I added.
His orchard is 6 miles northwest of my position. He lives another 20 miles north.
“I’m on my way to the orchard,” he told me. “I’ll call you when it stops.”
He means that he’d call me to fly when it stops.
So I’m sitting here, dressed in my flight suit and ready to go. The rain is still pattering against the roof and windows of my RV. The radar shows some heavier rain inbound from the Ellensburg area. And more rain beyond it that, if we’re lucky, will pass to the south of us. (That’ll make my buddy Jim happy. He’s down in Mattawa, doing the same thing I am. In fact, we spend far too much time texting each other about the weather.)
The helicopter is a quarter mile away and already fueled and preflighted. All I have to do is pull off the blade covers. I can be airborne within 10 minutes of my client’s call. The orchard is a 4-minute flight from here. So I’d much rather sit in my nice warm RV, watching the weather on radar, than sitting out in my truck by the helicopter, blind without most of my weather sources.
But I guess this explains why my mind is always on the weather — at least this time of year.