How's the weather?

Thursday, November 8, 2007 at 7:46 AM



A wise man once said, "I ain't often right, but I've never been wrong." When it comes to weather forecasts, this certainly rings true. You always remember that day when you planned a picnic because it was supposed to be sunny and it ended up raining. In the latest release of Google Earth layers, we're letting you play weatherman by publishing a slew of great, dynamic weather data.

If you're running the latest version of Google Earth, you'll notice a new "Weather" folder in the layers panel:



The "Weather" folder contains three sub-layers ("Clouds," "Radar," and "Conditions and Forecasts") and one "Information" link that gives you some background information on the data being displayed. The "Clouds" layer depicts a global satellite mosaic of clouds created on an hourly basis by our friends down the road at the Naval Research Laboratory in Monterey. As some of the foremost satellite meteorologists in the world, they have implemented various algorithms to make the data as accurate and comprehensive as possible. Click on the "Information" link in the "Weather" folder to see the what time the current clouds image portrays. Please note that there are a couple of hours of latency built into the data. In other words, the image you're looking at is probably from two to three hours ago. For a special visual treat, try zooming in towards the clouds. You'll eventually find yourself below the clouds, at which point you can look up and see the cloud deck above you.

The "Radar" layer contains a near real-time Doppler radar image of the United States, updated every 15 minutes. This data is being fed to us by the folks at Weather.com. We will shortly be rolling out radar for Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, and Europe as well. The "Information" bubble contains the time stamp associated with the current radar image.

Weather.com is also providing us with observation and forecast data for nearly 50,000 cities worldwide; that's what you see in the "Conditions and Forecasts" layer. You can zoom around to see the current conditions and forecasts for just about every major city in the world, among other cities. Can you find the world's most extreme weather? What about Base Orcadas in the South Orkney Islands, where, as I'm writing this, it's 23 degrees F with a 26 mph wind, making it feel like 6 degrees? And it's just about summertime there! The current conditions are updated at least hourly (more often in some places), and the forecasts get updated once every few hours.

My favorite feature of this release is something that you won't see in the layers panel of Google Earth itself. We're offering a separate KML network link download of a time animation of the last 24 hours of clouds data or the last 6 hours of radar data. Once you download the file, you'll see a new item in your "Temporary Places" folder in the "Places" panel (either "Clouds Animation" or "Radar Animation," depending on which file you downloaded). Make the animation visible by checking its associated checkbox, then click the "Play" button in the animation control at the top right of your screen and wait for the data to load (even though the resolution isn't as high as the static image, it might take a little while). If you load the clouds animation (be sure to turn off the current clouds image), you'll be rewarded with a beautiful animation of clouds dancing and swirling across the Earth's surface. More than any other data I've seen, the cloud animation turns Google Earth from an artificial virtual globe into a living and pulsing representation of the planet.

We're really excited to share all this great new data with you and have plans to add more down the road. I mentioned adding radar for places outside of the U.S., and we'll also be fully internationalizing the point conditions layer. Enjoy the weather!

Update: Due to high traffic, it may be difficult to access the layer right now. Rest assured that we are working on it, and please check back soon!

Update: All Weather layers should be fully visible now. We're sorry for any difficulties you may have had accessing them earlier. It's nothing but blue skies from here!