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Race Fan Resources: National Weather Service

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Race Fan Resources: National Weather Service

Bill Crittenden
May 30, 2007

This article is the first in a series of reviews of internet resources for racing fans and participants.

The National Weather Service is a U.S. Government agency, a department of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the part of the "focused on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere."  As it is a government agency, all information is provided free of charge with no advertisements.

Rain or Shine

First off, for the time being I'm a security supervisor for a complex of four buildings in Lake County, Illinois.  As part of my job, I've had to become familiar with emergency weather notifications.  While race fans mostly don't really need the whole spectrum of severe weather warnings and information, you'll probably like to know a little bit more than high temperature and whether it will be sunny, cloudy or rainy.

Basic Tools for the Fan at Home

It all starts with the National Weather Service's Home Page.  The first tab is Warnings and Forecasts.  Click on the area where your target racetrack is, and it will bring up the local Weather Forecast Office's page.  Then click on your specific location.  You'll get a Forecast at a Glance, Detailed 7-Day Forecast, Current Conditions (usually from the nearest airport) and a link to radar images.  If there is a potential for severe weather, a Hazardous Weather Outlook link will appear under Detailed 7-Day Forecast.  This is a good page to check before heading to the racetrack, or anywhere for that matter.

Click on the link to radar images.  This one's a fun little tool (if you're watching from home) that, when in precipitaiton mode (the radar mode of operation when there's rain in the area), updates every 5-6 minutes.  If you have a newer version of Java enabled, click on the Loop link next to Base under the "Reflectivity" heading.  This gives you an approximately one-hour loop that you can set to zoom in on and automatically refresh if desired.  Using this, you can determine direction and approximate speed of a rain shower, and from that make an estimate of whether or not a rain delay is worth waiting out or not.

Your local radar is a good thing to keep handy in any circumstance, but in this context you can keep it on in a window under your TrackPass or RaceView and click over to it when drops hit the cameras, or just check your computer when the TV broadcast goes into rain delay.

Advanced Tools for the Crew Chief

At the bottom of your local forecast page, there's a link to two maps under the heading National Digital Forecast Database.

The National Digital Forecast Database maps are an experimental forecast tool that produces forecast maps for such weather elements as high temperature, probability of precipitation, weather conditions, temperature, dewpoint, wind speed & direction, amount of precipitation, sky cover, and relative humidity, all in 3-hour increments, updated usually on an hourly basis!

This means, instead of heading to the track with an approximate high temperature and a forecast of partly cloudy out of the newspaper, a crew can head to the track knowing a forecast of a full range of weather conditions that affect the car and the track at the time of day the event will take place, and get an idea of how track conditions will change over the duration of the race.

This article also appears at Inside The Pit Box.

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