Weather Underground: A Community of Personal Weather Stations

The website Weather Underground was a pioneer in Internet community building and is now a well-known resource for weather enthusiasts. By some measures, it’s one of the top 100 most visited websites in the world.

With roots at the University of Michigan in the earliest days of the public Internet, it went online as an independent commercial entity in 1995. It’s famous for several things, including being the first online weather service, it’s Category 6 blog that’s a go-to location for weather enthusiasts (anchored by meteorologist and Weather Underground co-founder Dr. Jeff Masters), and community forums that vividly come to life during major weather emergencies.

Not only a top-down source of expert weather information, it is also a vast network of home-based personal weather stations (PWSs). Over a quarter of a million members upload weather data for their immediate area to Weather Underground, providing a vast array of data. As the community grows, so too does the depth and breadth of the data Weather Underground can share to the public.

For example, as Hurricane Harvey was inundating the Houston area with rainfall of historic proportions in August, Weather Underground not only provided the latest data from the National Weather Service (NWS) for the overall area, but also provided rainfall readings from very localized PWSs. This gave a more nuanced picture of where the most rain was falling in the area at any given time period.

This sense of community is also apparent in the comment section of its blogs. Especially during emergency events, potential scenarios are debated and members living in the impacted area often give real time updates and the type of “on the ground” information that traditional media sources cannot match (in part so that reporters don’t endanger themselves).

In addition, members of the site can create their own blogs and there’s a wide range of topics being discussed at any given moment at the site.

This “alternative community” feel is in keeping with the history of the site and its founding goals. The Weather Underground was created in part to challenge status quo conventions about the dissemination of weather data to the public. Its name is a veiled reference to the radical student group The Weather Underground, which was active at the University of Michigan in the 1960s. Part of its mission is to ensure that weather information is freely available to underserved populations worldwide.

But data isn’t just dumped onto the Internet. Instead, it is analyzed and explained by the team of professional meteorologists that give shape to it all. Weather Underground has also developed proprietary models that it uses in its forecasting.

Purchased by the Weather Channel in 2012, Weather Underground has retained its independence and existing staff, with operations completely separate from those of the weather.com site.

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