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Interpreting Surface Observation Symbols
scaffolding activity

Routine surface meteorological observations are represented on weather maps by a standard notation of symbols and numbers. In order to correctly interpret the data, it is important to understand what types of data the different numbers and symbols represent. This skill is not only important for reporting weather conditions for a given station, but also for determining the positions of significant meteorological features like fronts, cyclones and anticyclones. The purpose of this activity is to introduce these reporting symbols and how to extract information about temperature, dew point temperature, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, pressure and current weather. Key words throughout this activity link directly to helper resources that provide useful information for answering the questions.

Components of the Observation Symbol:
1) Fill in the blanks of the diagram to indicate what type of meteorological data is represented by each location. You may label the diagram in one of two ways; 1) by printing out a copy of this activity and marking your answers directly onto the printout or 2) by saving the image into your favorite graphics software and modifying the image using that graphics package.

Reporting on Weather Conditions:
Use the map of surface observations to answer the following questions.

2) What is the temperature in Des Moines, Iowa?

3) What is the dew point temperature in Phoenix, Arizona?

4) What is the pressure in Dallas, Texas?

5) What is the report of cloud cover in Chicago, Illinois?

6) What is the report of current weather (weather symbol) in Casper, Wyoming?

7) What is the speed and direction of the wind in Miami, Florida?

Reporting Current Weather Conditions:
8) Now apply what you have learned to real-time weather data. Go to the Weather Visualizer ( CoVis version | public version) and create the latest map of surface observations. For the station closest to where you live, list the latest observations for temperature, dew point temperature, cloud cover, pressure, current weather, wind direction and speed.

If the Weather Visualizer is too busy, here are additional web sites for accessing current weather data.

Terms for using data resources. CD-ROM available.
Credits and Acknowledgments for WW2010.
Department of Atmospheric Sciences (DAS) at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.