App of the Week: Top Nine Websites for Hurricane Season

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I swear that after this post, I will stop talking about weather apps and websites for a while, but since it is hurricane season here on the Gulf Coast, I figured one more post won't hurt anybody and it might even help a few.

There are a lot of weather websites and many of them provide the same basic information. When I'm looking for decent local weather coverage, I usually point my cursor in the direction of the fastest and easiest website to glance at the radar and check the upcoming forecast. But, when it comes to tropical weather, most of us want a little more.

So, I've put together a list of what I consider to be the nine best websites/blogs to help you keep track of tropical disturbances before and after they have formed.

9. Skeetobite Weather This might be the equivalent of the local weather site that is quick loading with few frills. Skeetobite puts the latest disturbance map with tracking model information at the top of the page and a list of any current storms below it. There are quick links to satellite imagery and basic hurricane information including historical data. It's a good, quick look at what is happening at the moment.

8. South Florida Water Management District You're probably thinking, "Why the hell would I want to read a website about water management in South Florida?" The simple answer is that this site happens to stay extremely well updated during hurricane season, specifically the most extensive "spaghetti model" on the web. There are dozens of forecast models for hurricane tracking. Most sites will display a few with a line that looks like spaghetti trailing from the storm along its projected path. SFWMD displays virtually all of them on one map, which is exceedingly handy.

7. Penn State University Electronic Map Wall Let's just say right now this one is for advanced users. Imagine a movie with a control room in some communications hub. The wall will probably be covered in blinking lights and knobs. The Penn State e-wall is basically the weather internet equivalent. The site displays virtually every weather tracking model available with links to view the animations. If you don't get any of this, that's ok. Just skip it. But, if you are a bonafide weather geek, you just hit the mother lode.

6. NOAA Tropical Cyclone Heat Potential This is, like the e-wall, more for the nerds out there, but extremely valuable when trying to predict the size and strength of a storm as it moves across the open waters of the Atlantic basin. This site displays the current water temperatures and the depth of that "heat content," which is a key contributing factor in the development of hurricanes. It also allows for comparison between this and other seasons, which can be helpful in estimating what to expect. 5 (tie). IbisEye.com & StormPulse.com Long before the internet, supermarkets would print hurricane tracking maps on the side of grocery bags. The modern day version of the paper bags are IbisEye and StormPulse,  graphically-based storm tracking sites that look and behave a lot like apps. They utilize Google map technology to give views of storm tracks and pertinent information. Both offer a historical archive of storms, though IbisEye is somewhat easier to use. StormPulse seems to do the best job of tracking "invests" (hurricane center areas of interest and investigation that aren't yet storms). Also, StormPulse gives a distance marker when the cursor is moused over any location. Both are very good resources and extremely easy to use.

3. NASA Hurricane & Tropical Cyclones Many people don't realize that NASA provides invaluable tools for tracking and predicting weather. Their hurricane and tropical cyclone page is no exception. They frequently blog about current and potential systems with detailed analysis and all kinds of technical data and imagery. The blog posts use mostly simple terminology and give detailed explanations where needed.

SciGuy Houston Chronicle science writer Eric Berger has distinguished himself as easily the best resource on hurricanes in Houston. His knowledge is extensive and his even-handed, often funny approach to the weather is both refreshing and comforting for a community regularly on its heals during hurricane season. Best of all, Berger is patient with the invariable ridiculous questions that come up in the comment section (he probably could make a small fortune of off "When should I evacuate from Katy?" t-shirts). When a storm is bearing down on the Texas coast and even long before it might be a threat, Berger's coverage is as good as it gets.

2. National Hurricane Center When in doubt, go to the source. The National Hurricane Center is the data source for all other websites out there. Their graphics are still a tad antiquated (but improving), their reports can be a bit lingo heavy and other sites sometimes have their latest data online before they do, but when it comes to hurricane reporting, the NHC is the authority.

1. Wunderground There is probably no more respected public figure when it comes to hurricanes and severe weather than Dr. Jeff Masters. He co-founded Weather Underground and wrote a ton of the software that process the data the site receives from government sources. His blog during hurricane season is nothing short of a dissertation on whatever storm or weather pattern facing North America at the moment (his tornado coverage recently was world class). Wunderground's graphic maps are excellent and they often have new data from the NHC posted minutes before other websites. This is practically a one-stop shop for weather information.

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