Thanks to the new weather, it’s no longer enough to catch a TV forecast before going to bed, and the 7-day outlooks are about as reliable as horoscopes. No, the weather these days is more tempermental than an overtired teenager during a full moon. If you plan on growing grass or or wearing shorts or opening your windows or going for a walk or a bike ride, you need up-to-the-minute weather information at your fingertips.

I’d like to plug two online weather services that I use.

One is the well-known Weather Underground. I highly recommend paying the tiny $5 annual membership fee, because then you’re able to ditch the advertising and customize things to a very satisfying extent. For example, you can set up a personalized list of locations you care about (friends and family, vacation homes, sports stadiums, etc.) and have easy access to detailed information for all of those places.

The feature I love best about Weather Underground is its Nexrad Radar Maps. With the $5 membership, they become very customizable. You can zoom in or out. You can show or hide the clutter around the radar station. You can set the number of frames in the animated loop (I use 13, which equals about one hour). You can track a specified number of storms (I typically choose ten), which adds one-hour projected movement arrows to the storms, and rates them for violence (a purple triangle indicates a tornado vortex signature, something to look out for here in Wisconsin). You can show or hide lightning strikes. It’s all about you.

I don’t know that this will work for anybody besides me, but here’s a link to my Nexrad Radar Map. I’ve been watching this all summer like it was TV. I’ve mostly seen storms approach my home and then magically vanish as if there was some sort of rain-preventing force field around us. The last two days, however, have brought sheaves of lightning and a fair amount of actual rain. How much? Here’s my Total Surface Rainfall Accumulation map. To paraphrase the NBA, I love this data!

The other tool I’m pushing today is My-Cast. My-Cast has a number of features similar to Weather Underground, but I rarely use them. The single thing that makes My-Cast special for me is that once you have registered (it’s free) and entered your personal locations, you can set it up to email you weather for those locations. I only want watches or warnings, so that’s what I get. Yesterday, a tornado watch was issued for a lot of Wisconsin counties, including Kenosha (where Amy works) and Racine (our home). Right after the National Weather Service put it out, it arrived in my inbox — one for each location. I don’t know where else you can get this sort of service for free.

This is vital information. The new weather is not only wacky and thrilling, it can also be dangerous. Thankfully, through our government, we Americans have put an excellent infrastructure in place to monitor the weather. Now, via the Internet, this information is available to all of us all the time.

Or at least it is for now. I know that last year, Sen. Rick Santorum was pushing a bill to stop that flow.

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