Pittsburgh weather forecasts start here
location: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service (NWS), and the Pittsburgh office in Moon Township
Special guest: Fred McMullen, warning-coordinating meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh
3 things that surprised me:
1. Although the National Weather Service uses technology to monitor weather conditions, much of its technology is surprisingly analog. Fred took me outside to show me how meteorologists measure rain and snow in Pittsburgh. To measure the rain, Fred led me to what looked like a metal pipe outside the back door of the office. He lowered a long ruler into the pipe to see how many inches of rain had collected. Fred also pointed to two boards on the ground that he uses to track snow accumulation. They remove one panel every few hours to track how quickly the snow is falling and keep the other panel untouched so they can measure overall snowfall.
2. Fred and his team launch weather balloons twice a day. They fill a huge rubber balloon with hydrogen and then attach a radiosonde, a special sensor that can record and send readings of temperature, humidity, wind and pressure. It also includes a small orange parachute to slow down the fall after the balloon pops. The balloon travels about 100,000 feet in the atmosphere and continues to expand as it gets higher and higher, eventually reaching the size of a small house before it explodes.
3. I asked Fred about the giant white orb on top of a metal tower next to their office, and he explained that it was a Doppler radar. The radar sends out small bits of microwave energy that are reflected back to form an image of what’s happening in the sky around Pittsburgh. They’re incredibly sensitive, and Fred told me he could see flocks of spotted lanternflies on radar last summer.
The only thing that wasn’t cut permanently: Fred explained that Pittsburgh’s Doppler radar is in Moon Township because Doppler radar can only sense what’s around it, not its exact location. So setting up a Doppler radar downtown would create a map that does not include the center of Pittsburgh.
additional information: You can get updated information about Pittsburgh weather at the National Weather Service website.
you want more Yinzer corridor behind the scenes? Get a behind-the-scenes peek at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum and learn about the “Terrible Trolley.”