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December 11, 1996|
Not surprisingly there are plenty of weather resources on the Internet. One of the easiest ways to see what's in store for a particular city or region is to visit Yahoo! Weather; CNN Interactive and USA Today also purvey their standard fare, MSNBC is now in on the act too, with Weather by Intellicast, and there are other sites as well. But what would weather on the Web be without The Weather Channel? The C-SPAN of weather news, this strange television phenomenon allows ordinary citizens to monitor Mother Nature's mood swings on a 24-hour basis. Until the right combination of technology and marketing made The Weather Channel possible, few people -- except perhaps for aspiring meteorologists -- would ever have felt the need to keep up with changing weather conditions in places they neither live nor have plans to visit. Now, like its broadcast counterpart, the Weather Channel Web site offers more information about atmospheric events than most people could ever possibly desire.
Visitors to the site learn some valuable things about The Weather Channel itself: it is, for example, a television network devoted entirely to weather; it was first broadcast in 1982 to a national audience of 2.5 million homes but now reaches more than 63 million; more than 130,000 homes are tuned to it at any given moment during the day. Of course, there is a wealth of weather news on the site, both U.S. and international. But what sets The Weather Channel online apart from the pack of weather sites is the kind of quirky features that its television viewers have come to expect. Many of them are packaged as educational content: Weather Words, Drops of History, and the irresistible Look Up! ("an innovative learning program designed to stimulate awareness of the sky in its many moods," which invites you to test your "sky awareness" by taking the Look Up! Quiz daily from the 15th through the 26th of every month, and urges you to "start watching the clouds and sunsets so you'll be ready.") Another exciting online feature is the ability to look at local radar reports. The NEXRAD Doppler radar, the site boasts, is "the National Weather Service's new network of high tech weather radars that detect the location and intensity of precipitation with a level of accuracy and detail never before available." In keeping with the spirit of the season you can check out a comprehensive Skier's Forecast or even the latest climatic conditions at the North Pole (hint: it's cold).
Despite these efforts to maintain the distinctive personality of the original, the move from television to the Web may separate the average weather-watcher from the bona fide Weather Channel junkie. Thorough as the site is, there is none of the television channel's signature background Muzak accompanying local forecasts, nor does one find those chatty yet earnest folks, the true wonks among television weather anchors, who host "Weather Scope" and walk you through your all-important "Five Day Planner." This may be cause for relief or disappointment. If all you're after is information, the Web site provides it amply and efficiently. But if you are a devotee in the cult of weather, a true weather aesthete who appreciates weather for weather's sake, you may find the Web version a bit too utilitarian, a bit cold and dry, as it were, and you may long nostalgically for the televised version where you first succumbed to the spell of the hypnotic patterns dancing miraculously across the satellite maps.
Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.