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May 25, 2010

Check out our new Weather Page

Regular visitors to The Baltimore Sun’s online Weather Page have noticed some striking changes this week.

My same sorry mug is still there, I'm afraid, but you’ll also find a colorful new 7-day forecast section. You can glide your cursor over any day of the week and find more details in a pop-up box.

Snow in BaltimoreWe have a big, new, animated radar screen. It can be a bit slow to load, but it has lots of new features. The radar animates the most recent 30 minutes of returns. Drop-down data options allow readers to toggle among three different backgrounds, including a road map, terrain map and satellite images. 

You can also enter any Zip Code to zoom the radar to your location. That also activates a forecast for that spot. The "Clickcast" option produces forecasts for any place in the world. You can also select for national or high-resolution local radar, infrared satellite views, watches and warnings. Or, you can call up lightning strikes or ship and buoy data.

You can also set the radar screen to show severe storm and hurricane data. I suspect users will be spending lots of time exploring all this. It's kind of addictive, at least for weather geeks like me.Flooding Baltimore

For obsessive/compulsive planners, there is a new feature below the radar screen that provides forecasts for each hour, beginning with the next one and moving forward for each of the next 24.

Then there's the Weather Almanac, with normal and record temperature data for the date, and sunrise and sunset times. I'm told we will soon restore the detailed weather history from BWI that was available on the old page. That tool provided weather data for any date back to 1950, when the Heat wave Baltimoreofficial weather station for Baltimore was moved to then-Friendship, now BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The new page also provides detailed air quality information, including current grass, mold, tree and weed pollen counts. There is an ultraviolet exposure rating (on a 1 to 10 scale, higher being more dangerous), and even a current flu report (only sporadic in Maryland at the moment).

The Maryland Weather Center is still there, providing a link to detailed information from The Sun's own weather station at Calvert and Centre streets. It's a handy place to check out downtown conditions. Lots of features on that, too.

The Weather Blog is still there, of course. And now we have links to more national weather news, and videos from The Sun, from readers and dozens of other sources. The WJZ video forecast is also still available on the page.

We're also currently running a "Bay and Beach" feature with loads of beach news and information.

So go check it out. Explore, play with the new features and tools. You could even buy an ad! And feel free to leave a comment here and tell us what you like, what you don't like and what else you'd like to see on the page. Cheers. - Frank

(SUN PHOTOS: Top, Kim Hairston, 2010; Middle: Hillary Smith, 1996; Bottom: AP/Ted Mathias, 1994)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 6:00 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Notes to readers


More features do not create a better page.

My first experience with the weather page was trying to figure out why an enormous advertisement for a 99 cent Sun subscription had pushed all of the weather information out of the way and what I could do to make the ad go away.

My second experience involved trying to figure out if that huge baltimore skyline was conveying any information. It appears that it is instead actually obscuring information, in the form of the skyline behind it. I guess this is to remind me that I live in Baltimore?

My third experience was having another ad expand itself over the weather map.

My fourth experience was having my eye drawn up to a flashing add in the top right corner, trying to figure out if that was important. It was not. I scrolled it out of the way so it would not be distracting.

Ads: 3. Weather information: 0.

There are 31 popup menus on the weather map. Do I need to use those? No idea. They appear and disappear unreliably when I try to mouse over them. Guess I'll just leave them alone.

I don't know where to look, I don't know how to use it. Stylistically it's a mashup.

In short: I have no idea why I'd use this page to check the weather. I can get the information I care about presented much more clearly elsewhere.

FR: Thanks for your feedback. For what it's worth, the skyline does provide weather information. The sky above the buildings (sunny, rainy, lightning, stars) represent the weather for those days, at a glance. The popups, like all popups, are annoying, but easily dispatched by clicking in the lower lefthand corner on the word "Close." If you aren't interested in the radar map features, you can ignore them, but some readers will have particular interests they can pursue there. The controls take some practice, but they're not complicated. Thanks for looking it over.

Changes not so functional on the iPhone. I used to go to your page for local radar while mobile, when the storm is barreling down on my outdoor activities. Having the radar over a satellite image instead of plain map is also hard to read on the iPhone. Not a fan of the new changes. Sorry.

Used to work well. Now I'm heading to a different site.

FR: I agree that the radar is hard to read over the satellite image. But you can toggle the background to a road map or a terrain map. Give it a try. Also, we hope to launch iPhone apps for use with the new page in a month or so.

Adblock Plus ... an add-on for firefox. You should try it.

My score:
Ads: 0 Weather Information: 6

Is there rainfall total for the year and I'm missing it?

FR: Some almanac features are not yet up and running. I'll have to ask whether/when that rather important one will come back. You can still find it in the print edition, Elizabeth. Surely YOU still subscribe. 8-)

FR: UPDATE: Rainfall data should be back when the new almanac pages are added in a few days.

On debut day, I was looking for the usual box to type in a city and state and get the forecast, but couldn't find it. I went to another site. But now I realize that the map is the key. I moved the map to Connecticut, clicked on Bridgeport, and there was the forecast. Plus, I could see all the weather between here and there. I like the new features. For one, I can easily expand the map and see fronts moving in from the Midwest and the Gulf -- that was harder to do on the old page. The new page just takes some exploring and getting used to. I learned long ago not to let pop-ups and other ad gimmicks bother me.

FR: Thanks!

Functional and clever, particularly the shot of the skyline looking west.

If ya really want to go whole hog, add moonrise/set/phase in the pop-up tabs.

FR: Agreed. I'll look into it. Thanks!

I didn't experience the problems of the previous posters, but I did see something strange.
When I clicked on "location" on the radar map and typed in 21030 (my zip code) a drop down appeared with the following high temps: Thur 86, Fri 61, Sat 64, Sun 80. But, on the top of the page under the skyline photo the forcast temps listed were: Thurs 91, Fri 73, Sat 74, Sun 82. That's quite a discrepency, especially for Friday and Saturday. Why the discrepency? Which should I believe?

FR: That is quite a gap. Some of the difference may be explained by how you've set up the "skyline" module. In the upper right-hand corner there is a dropdown menu which can be set for the Sun's weather station (downtown, surrounded by city streets), BWI (a bit cooler, normally), Towson, Ocean City or Annapolis. But when I switched it to Towson - not far from your Zip - there was still quite a difference. And checking the NWS forecast for Hunt Valley, I'm seeing highs of 72 and 75 for Friday and Saturday. Don't know where those 60s are coming from. Will ask. Thanks. In the meantime, believe the Towson numbers.

It took a few days to get used to, but I like the changes. The map is slow to load, but thanks to your tutorial, it is a lot of fun to play with and chock full of information.

The map, however, won't load at all on my iPhone, which has been a disappointment. I frequently check the radar when at my kids' sporting events and the dark clouds begin to gather. I would be interested in an app if offered, but until then, I'll have to use something else.

My only other complaint is that the 7-day forecast doesn't include the current day. It gives the "right now" temp and conditions and then moves right into tomorrow. To find the forecast in the morning for today I either have to scroll through the hourly data, or wait for the map and click somewhere on it. I'd prefer the current day's forecast be much more accessible.

Overall, it looks good and now that I understand the map, I've been having some fun with it! Thanks for your post explaining where to find everything.

FR: Thanks! An iPhone app is in the works. Should be ready in a month or so. Your forecast request is duly noted.

I think it looks pretty spiffy really, and it's generally intuitive enough. My only question is about radar. Unless I'm missing something, doesn't the "Local Radar" tab at the top with the "7-Day Forecast" display the same thing as the "Current Radar" that auto loads in the center of the page? And if so, isn't that redundant? Couldn't something else be displayed either with the 7-Day Forecast or in place of the Current Radar, like a satellite image of cloud cover or something?

FR: It is redundant, although if you keep the top panel on the 7-day forecast, it allows you to display radar and the forecast at the same time. Also, you can switch the radar map to "IR satellite" (from the "Weather" dropdown box) for infrared, which will give you some sense of cloud cover. IR reveals temperatures, with the tallest, more intense storm formations registering colder temperatures - green and dark green on our maps.

What happened to the maps page?

FR: Got an explanation from the Web folks, but it was Greek to me. Should be fixed by the end of the day Friday. Thanks.

There's much about the new site that I don't like, for the reasons cited by other posters.

What about those readers who don't have iPhones but have Blackberries or other PDAs? Will we be able to download the radar to see the approaching storm while we're at Camden Yards?

FR: Yes.

But the biggest question I have concerns the probabilities of precipitation that are now posted on the site. Who are you kidding when a 29% chance of precipitation is posted rather than 30% (as for this Sunday)? Are new prediction tools this incredibly accurate?

FR: Not familiar with the new weather data vendor's math. But does it matter whether it's 29 or 30? Either way, you get the idea.

I like the new photos at the top with the skyline, but am confused as to where to find the actual forecast for the present day. Can't seem to find highs and lows...

FR: There is an hourly forecast right below the radar map. But you're right. The first panel in the 7-day forecast is the sensible place for today's forecast high and low. We're working on it.

FR: Okay. We have added a module just below the 7-day forecast that provides a tab for "Today's Forecast" that includes "Current Conditions" with a forecast high and low, and the forecast for today and tomorrow. That should work.

I want the simple, clear radar of old back. You click, you hit animate and there it is. Right now there are storms all over the region, yet the new map shows nothing. And how do I animate it? I must be dense, because I think this is over designed and non-intuitive. I just want a quick glance at an oncoming system or storm, and I have yet to figure out how to see this.

FR: Well, I can't bring back the old. That would be above my pay grade. But try clicking on the dropdown menu for "Weather," and selecting "Local super res" or "National." That will bring out the local storms. I've found it also helps to select "Map" or "Terrain" under the "View" tab. That clears out some of the visual clutter from the satellite image.

To animate the radar, I've discovered you need to click on the "Play" button - the tiny triangle right beside the little digital clock.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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