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CYBURBIA

THE GOODS : You, Too, Can Play Weather Reporter

October 07, 1994|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After several hours at the computer trying to beat the last level of "Doom," you might get the urge to check out what's happening in the great outdoors.

In the old days, you had to either let that urge pass or actually get up from your chair and go outside.

But no more. Now, if you have a modem, there is an astonishing amount of up-to-date weather information that can be accessed through on-line services. And if you have access via your workplace or school to the Internet, you can get worldwide weather maps, satellite pictures, forecasts and more technical meteorological data than you probably care about for free.

The easiest way to obtain weather information on-line is through the commercial services. On CompuServe, you simply click on the little weather icon (if you're using one of their handy graphic interfaces--otherwise, you just write "go weather") and up pops the current forecast for the area you choose.

Choose Los Angeles, for example, and you get separate forecasts from the National Weather Service for the Downtown/beach areas and the San Fernando/San Gabriel valleys.

The day this column appears, according to that forecast, it's supposed to be mostly clear with light winds and highs ranging from the mid 70s at the beaches to the 80s in the valleys.

CompuServe also provides a "Climatological Report," showing current weather conditions and bits of historical information, including the record highs and lows for the day.

For cities outside the United States, CompuServe gives you access to forecasts made by the commercial Accu-Weather service (it's supposed to be partly sunny today in Tokyo with a high of 84).

But that's just the beginning of CompuServe's justifiably heralded weather features. You can also get printouts of extended forecasts, weather alerts, precipitation probability charts, marine forecasts for boaters and (for an extra fee) aviation forecasts.

Finally, you can view numerous weather maps and satellite pictures that are updated regularly. From a satellite in geostationary orbit that allows a constant view of the southwestern United States, came pictures earlier this week clearly showing the clouds that brought us welcome rain showers.

Weather information is also available on America On Line, but it's neither as detailed nor as easy to find or view. Maps and satellite pictures must be downloaded to your computer before you can view them.

AOL does have a lively weather discussion area for the truly climatologically obsessed. Recent messages included a debate about what area of the United States has the worst weather (Mt. Washington, N.H., got a lot of votes) and the best (many nominated San Diego). There were also numerous weather jokes including the old standby about the forecast for South America ("Chile today and hot tamale") and several of the it-was-so-cold variety ("It was so cold in D.C. that the politicians had their hands in their own pockets!"). Let's move on.

You have to work a bit to get weather info on the Internet, but if you are fascinated by the topic, it is certainly the place to be. The best known spot is the "Weather Machine" area maintained by the University of Illinois and founded with grants from the National Science Foundation and other agencies.

Once at that Internet site, I was able to get detailed National Weather Service forecasts for the Los Angeles area, plus a climatological summary that included accumulated precipitation for the season as compared to past seasons (especially important data for us in Southern California). There were also extended forecasts, a visibility report, wind advisories and marine summaries.

The "Weather Machine" also offers an ample variety of weather maps, satellite pictures, radar images and surface pictures. In its archives are pictures of hurricanes and other major events.

With the appropriate on-line search tools, you can then travel from Illinois to weather information sites around the world on the Internet, including European sites where you can download spectacular images from the Meteosat satellite that are processed by the Department of Meteorology at the University of Edinburgh.

You can spend so many hours exploring the weather of the world that you might even temporarily forget about "Doom." You need never leave the house again.

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