Dr. Fred Weather Watch Cover

DR. FRED'S WEATHER WATCH: CREATE AND RUN YOUR OWN WEATHER STATION by Fred Bortz, Ph.D. with J. Marshall Shepherd, Ph.D. (McGraw-Hill, 2000, ages 10-up) Paperback, ISBN#0-07-134799-2.
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Introduction: The Weather and You

What could be simpler than the Earth's atmosphere -- the air we breathe? It has no color, no odor, no taste, and very little weight. Light passes through it almost unchanged. Almost all of it is within ten kilometers (about six miles) of our planet's surface. If Earth were as big around as a basketball, the atmosphere would be thinner than a sheet of paper.

But inside that thin layer can rage powerful storms. Clouds form and grow in hours, last for days, then disappear as ice, sleet, snow, or rain falling to the surface. Lightning flashes, thunder crashes, winds howl in ever-changing patterns. Even the sturdiest trees can be uprooted. Homes and buildings can be destroyed. Years of wind and rain, freezing and thawing, change solid rock into soft soil.

Despite its never-ending changes, this action in the atmosphere called weather can be predicted. We know that the energy for these awesome natural events comes from a single star, 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) away, the Sun. We understand that daily and yearly changes in the weather come from our planet's steady rotation on its tilted axis. We know that atmospheric conditions are affected by the masses of land and water on our planet's surface.

The scientific study of the weather, called meteorology, is as exciting and interesting as the weather itself. Unlike many scientists, who study things that most people have never heard of or experienced, meteorologists study something that affects everyone everyday. All meteorologists study the weather and many predict it. Their forecasts, though far from perfect, are usually reliable.

Today, nearly everyone makes decisions about what to do, where to go, and what to wear based on meteorological predictions. Farmers depend on weather forecasts to plan their planting and harvests. Pilots plan their routes to avoid powerful storms. Not many years ago, deadly and damaging hurricanes came ashore from the ocean almost without warning. Today, with advanced computers, satellites, radars, and other new technologies, meteorologists can track severe storms from the start, giving people time to protect their property and themselves.

Many scientists use words that ordinary people don't understand, but the words of weather forecasters come into our living rooms daily. Thanks to radio and television, most people understand the words and know about the tools of meteorology. Those tools can be very fancy -- television stations compete with advanced radar and satellite images and flashy computer-generated displays. Still, weather forecasting begins with simple, basic measurements and historical weather record-keeping. Using mainly items you can find around the house, you can build simple instruments to make those same measurements in your neighborhood. Your back yard or school can become a weather station and the headquarters of your very own Neighborhood Weather Watch.

This book aims to help young people, teachers, and parents become amateur weather scientists. It explains how to gather and use information about the basic condition of the atmosphere, just as professional meteorologists do. Through its pages and diagrams, you will learn to measure and record -- using your own home-made weather station -- air pressure, temperature, humidity (moisture in the air), wind speed, wind direction, and the amount of rainfall. You will learn how to recognize clues to the arrival of weather "fronts" and "systems." You will learn how to create and use a local weather record that will help you predict conditions to come.

The book also includes information about how you can find and use advanced measurements of our planet and atmosphere -- the same data that professional meteorologists use to study the weather and create their forecasts. Then, using your home-made weather station, you can see how the atmospheric conditions of your small neighborhood fit into a fascinating world-wide pattern of ever-changing, yet often predictable, weather.

So open your eyes, roll up your sleeves, and let the fun begin!

Text copyright 2000 by Alfred B. Bortz, all rights reserved

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