New weather pages for MPR News

Today we have launched our new weather pages for MPR News, sporting a new design, improved weather data, and geolocation. If your browser supports it, we will attempt to give you the most accurate forecast for the location where you are.

Our old weather pages were very text heavy. We’ve re-vamped that with more relevant visualizations of the upcoming weather. For the next 48 hours, we show the sky conditions, and a quick text description of each day’s forecast. We also show a handy line graph of the temperature swing, highlighting the highs and lows, and when they’ll happen.

48hours

Our new icons are also new, and support retina devices. Looking at other weather pages, flat icons like Meteocons appear to be all the rage. I don’t think these icons communicate terribly well the range of weather conditions or the differences between night and day, especially at smaller sizes. Our new icons are an evolution of icons I previously created and these icons by  Tobias Wiedenmann. For something as vibrant as weather, color, depth, and texture were tools we didn’t want to abandon.

7 day forecast shows a heat wave.

For the longer term 7-day forecast, show the temperature range for  the day, and if your device’s screen can fit, when the high/low temps for that day are going to happen. We also show the average high/low temps for the day, if available for your location (more on this below).

We also include a link and blurb on the latest forecast from Updraft. Despite the great data, it’s important to have a skilled meteorologist interpret the data and help us peek around the corner for signs of hope and/or gloom

Oh noes! A blizzard in Grand Forks!

When severe weather is happening, we also display prominent alerts from the NWS. If we’re running a live blog, we’ll also have prominent links to that to get up to the minute storm coverage.

With this new page, we have replaced Weather Underground with Forecast.io. Our meteorologists generally prefer the National Weather Service data for forecasts, but wunderground hasn’t tracked NWS data quite as closely as we’d like over the years. Forecast.io tracks the NWS LAMP data very closely in the US, which makes our meteorologists happy. Forecast.io also has an excellent API which makes developers happy, and reasonable pay-as-you-go pricing, which makes the bean counters happy. 

Forecast.io data source tracking.

There are two things with forecast.io that we have to work around or augment: First, the API response doesn’t include the trend for atmospheric pressure: rising, falling, or steady. To work around this, we make a second API call asking for the conditions 3 hours ago, then compare the barometer readings. Any changes let us know the pressure trend. Weather nerds know the atmospheric pressure is important to understand coming weather patterns. 

Secondly, forecast.io doesn’t provide the average high and low temps for a given location. We have retrieved the 30 year ‘normals‘ from the Climactic Data Center and built a little system to retrieve it from a handful of csv files. NOAA makes this data available for the entire country as a series of 30mb CSV files or via a very slow REST API, but we opted to just grab the handful of MN observation stations. We’ve hard-coded the coordinates of these stations (they don’t move) and then do some quick calculations to see if your weather location is near enough to our known locations. If it is, we show you normals and how they compare to your location. 

I have personally been using these weather pages for the past month and find them both useful and complicit in my discontent with our polar vortex fueled misery. Depending on the forecast (and how you’re feeling), the average highs and lows are inspiring or damning. The trend lines really help you know when might be the best time to take the dog for a walk.

Any feedback or issues are always welcome.