As the winter storm slowly gathers force you might wonder what meteorologists are doing right now.
Many of us are eating dinner because the last “forecast cycle” is complete. The rest were launching weather balloons about an hour ago and are finishing tracking those flights as I write this. That data above the surface is vital to getting the forecast right.
In about 15 minutes, the National Weather Service weather balloon locations, as well as locations throughout the world (the balloons are launched simultaneously) will be reporting the results of the temperatures, humidities, and winds aloft. Those will be ingested by computers in Washington, D.C., Montreal, outside London, and other weather centers all over the world. Starting around 9pm Central, the first of the computer model forecasts for the next cycle will come out, with additional model forecasts from then until midnight.
If you want to know more about how all this works, I suggested reading Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather.