Weather Report


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BEST PRACTICES SERIES

My husband often jokes that he married me for the gadgets. When we first met, this certainly wasn’t the case—I was a literary scout, and my booty consisted of manuscripts of forthcoming books (exciting stuff only to those of us eternally on the lookout for a great read). Not long afterward, however, he did fall in love with me (or my job) all over again: I joined the team at EMedia magazine, where we reviewed exciting emerging technologies, such as CD and DVD burners; and a variety of related technologies, such as different types of surround sound.

Unless you are an ubergeek or a wicked-early adopter, I probably lost you there for a second. You may not believe it, but those technologies were bleeding-edge and mighty expensive when I first covered them. While some of my colleagues can boast of having used the earliest iterations of the web (which I can’t), I did write about MP3 before Napster existed, much less exploded, sold, and re-emerged (never to matter as much as it did in its outlaw days). Back then, commercial DVD making was in its infancy, so the EMedia team produced the DVD Discus Awards, which evaluated the DVD’s technological merits to help provide a benchmark as the technology proliferated. Side effect: A good hundred or so DVDs (mostly popular movies) were delivered to my doorstep. Oh yeah, my husband was digging me then.

Of late, the loot has returned to not-so-hip. OK, I got a few free iPods at trade shows, and occasionally, I get a copy of some useful software. But most of what I review these days is incredibly useful and, um, less fun. I’m on the business end of technology now.

Recently, however, my husband has been bragging, to an almost embarrassing extent, about a freebie that I got. I’m glad he’s psyched, but this is some geeky stuff: I received full access to AccuWeather.com Premium, which was recently updated to include Level-II Super-Resolution NEXRAD radar. (Neato!)

This interactive web display allows users to pan and zoom across the U.S. and Canada for radar data and across the entire world for satellite data. Displaying up to 48 hours of data, you can plot a location and choose specifics to be displayed on the image. AccuWeather.com Radar HD displays this radar data with functionality that includes the ability to control layers such as topography and the ability to display cities of all sizes, state and county lines, highways, and more.

Premium, which costs $79.95 a year, provides ad-free, detailed weather targeted at "weather enthusiasts." I would laugh at the notion that such a group exists except that my husband routinely has the painfully robotic voice of NOAA Weather Radio blaring from his car speakers. Foolishly, I had thought him simply "obsessed." Who knew he was part of a fraternity of weather aficionados? I don’t think he’d shell out $80 a year for this toy (nor would he have shelled out $20 for blank DVDs back in the early days of DVD-R), but maybe I’m wrong. I have witnessed the strength of the weather junkie’s jones. Powerful stuff.

According to AccuWeather.com’s director of R&D, Doug Yule, in addition to enthusiasts, the target group for the Premium service includes "business owners, construction or building industries, schools ..." Basically, those who could benefit from a better weather forecast than, dare I say it, they would get for free on TV or online.

Like many sites that give some milk away for free in the hopes that audiences really want a burger (and will buy the whole cow), AccuWeather.com gives away radar views on its free site. But Premium offers not only vastly higher resolution but updated radar views every 5 minutes (rather than 15), seven times as many radar types, and hour-by-hour forecasts up to 360 hours (as opposed to 72 hours).

Yule says that AccuWeather.com originally launched its premium site thinking that being ad-free would entice users to ante up a subscription fee—a quaint ’90s notion. In fact, many user groups that needed to be able to plan, for example, hour-by-hour deployment of an ice-and-snow-removal work force or outdoor activities for a summer camp emerged. There are also locations lacking sufficient coverage, such as for one subscriber who lives on a small island in the middle of the South Pacific.

In our case, we live in between some very distinct weather areas, and radar from Albany, N.Y., tends to predict weather that bears only a slight resemblance to what goes on in our remote Connecticut town. With the Premium edition, we can see the radar view of our house. Yule says more enhancements are on the way, including improving the base maps to "let people see where they are on the map."

With so many content offerings struggling to find a way to support growth, it is good to know that AccuWeather.com can continue to invest in delivering more-enhanced content offerings. While I may not join the "weather enthusiasts" club any time soon, I can see the value of having a storm’s-eye view of what is going to happen right outside my window.