BOULDER, Colo. - We all want to know if it's going to be hot or cold, snowy or stormy, rainy or dry. To get the forecast, we turn on the TV or we open an app, but where does all that information come from? The National Weather Service.
(Denver/Boulder National Weather Service Office)
Secret No. 1: When the National Weather Service was created in 1870 it was part of the U.S. Army. Now it's a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Commerce Department. Why commerce?
The National Weather Service says its mission is to "provide weather, water, and climate data, forecasts and warnings for the protection of life and property and enhancement of the national economy."
Nezette Rydell, the chief meteorologist in charge at the Denver/Boulder National Weather Service Office says the world is weather sensitive and her team is there to "save lives, protect property and keep commerce moving." That means trucks, ships, planes, etc...
Secret No. 2: While so much of the information coming in is computerized, the National Weather Service still uses weather balloons. The balloons are launched at the same time around the world - in Denver that means 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. during Daylight Saving Times and 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. during Daylight Standard Time.
The balloons are still launched near the location of the old National Weather Service office that was at Stapleton Airport in Denver. While the office moved operations to Boulder in 1999, the balloons are handled by a contractor in the old Stapleton neighborhood.
The balloons go up to about 100,000 feet (10 millibars in pressure). When the balloon bursts, the instrument package drops back down with observations about temperature, humidity and wind.
The balloons are launched from about 90 sites around the U.S.
Secret No. 3: How do the meteorologists know a storm is coming? And how do they know how much snow we're going to get or not get?
The scientists at NOAA create computer models. Models take in information on weather patterns, observations, radar, satellite, balloon readings, aviation reports and more. Models use mathematical equations and climatology to determine what the atmosphere will do.
The National Weather Service uses those models, plus their own expertise and observations, to create a forecast.
"We provide the best forecast we can," Rydell explained. "It's not perfect, but it's as good as the science lets us be right now."
Rydell says the NOAA building in Boulder houses about 750 atmospheric scientists working to improve weather information.
Secret No. 4: You can see these models yourself! Just Google HRRR, FIM experimental model and NCEP operational model.
Secret No. 5: When you see the 7-day planner on 7NEWS, why is it seven days?
Rydell says when she started in the 1980s the National Weather Service only issued a three day forecast.
"Day 3 was iffy," Rydell said.
Now, the science and the models have improved and they can issue a seven day forecast.
"Someday, it will be a 10 day forecast," Rydell says. And Rydell believes that forecast isn't too far away.
The Denver/Boulder National Weather Service Office has a staff of 24 people working on those forecasts.
There are always two forecasters on duty, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One is focused on the short term forecast -- that's today and tonight. The second forecaster is focused on the long term forecast -- tomorrow and the next seven days.
In addition, there are forecasters who specialize in fire weather and hydrology. There are people who work on statistics, experts who monitor and develop models and there are even people from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center to watch the avalanche danger and issue warnings.
Secret No. 6: So whose voice is it you hear on TV when there's a warning? It's the voice of this computer set-up. This is the NOAA weather radio. It takes the information created by the National Weather Service meteorologists, turns it into an audio file and plays it.
The National Weather Service is the official source for weather alerts, watches and warnings.
Secret No. 7: How much does this cost? Rydell says it costs each family in the U.S. about the price of one Big Mac meal each year to run the National Weather Service.
Bonus: Our own Storm Station7 chief meteorologist Mike Nelson not only uses the National Weather Service data to create his forecast, he uses other models, tracks the storms and uses his 39 years of experience forecasting to determine our seven day forecast.