Forecasting your field recording

While the weather doesn’t matter so much if you work indoors, spending time outdoors is essential for mental & physical health and if you work hard then your free time is invaluable and not to be wasted. So whether you are just planning to go for a hike at the weekend, or as a field recordist or photographer you totally depend on environmental conditions I thought i’d collect together all the websites & apps I use to plan my missions…

There is an old saying: ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes’ which is fine if you’re just a tourist but for people such as fishermen and farmers, their lives & safety depend on checking and interpreting the weather forecast. For they must plan far more than just whether to take a brolly to work with them the next day. Having access to reliable weather data & forecasts is only half the equation – local knowledge is equally crucial to understand how the weather will actually affect your planned locations.

So the first two tools I use are for VERY local weather conditions ie in my lounge!

As a kid I grew up on my parents farm, and one sound that I remember from as far back as my memory stretches is that whenever my Dad got up from the dining table after breakfast or lunch, and headed off out to work on the farm he would always pause by the barometer hanging on the wall in the hall and tap it with his finger. I never thought about why he tapped it, it just seemed a funny sort of ritual…

Many years later when I bought a barometer for my own house, I learned to appreciate why he tapped it. Barometers display the current pressure and the indicator tends to have some friction by design, in that it displays and holds the current pressure. And when you tap it it briefly it frees itself and changes to display the current pressure, so it behaves a bit like refreshing or reloading a website. The same applies to my barometer above, so it must be by design but also note my barometer has a second arm which you can manually set. So when I check the pressure, I note the current reading, tap the centre of the glass and note which direction the pressure is changing, and then set the second arm to that position.

Here are some useful articles about interpreting the information you get from a barometer:

– How to Read a Barometer
– How to Set and Read a Barometer
– Fair or Foul? How to Use a Barometer to Forecast the Weather

The second tool I use is a temperature and humidity meter – I have this one in my lounge, another downstairs and another one outside. It is interesting to compare them all, and then compare them with the recorded average for my local area as per the TV News forecast. Local conditions vary, but as a home owner I am especially interested in whether eg my basement is damp.

I really think everyone should own a barometer and a temperature/humidity meter and know how to use them. I also have a rain gauge outside but I only really use it in summer, to check how much rain my vege garden is getting and whether I need to irrigate.

When I did my Artists Residency in the Waitakere Ranges I got to spend some time with Park Rangers, and I was especially curious at the Visitors Centre what weather advice they provided as they were often the last point of contact before people headed off for hikes in the Waitaks. I expected them to direct me to our local government weather forecasting, but was surprised when one Ranger told me he relied on a forecasting service based in Norway! Ever since I have used them daily/hourly and long term forecasts: Yr.no is a joint service by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation.

Daily forecast:

Website: yr.no and iOS app and Android app

Yr.no allows you to save Places, but I also save web bookmarks to the places I am permanently interested in (eg my home, my GFs home etc) but when planning a field trip I also save a link to each shoot location and the latter can be really revealing as to variation in local conditions. For example when I was recording a sound library of WIND IN TREES, I would check the hourly forecasts for each of my planned locations, and depending on the direction of the wind some locations that were relatively close together would have remarkably different conditions even though they are all under the influence of the same weather system. I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising since if you live near the sea the predominant wind is going to be from the sea, as there is nothing to restrict the wind from impacting on your location. But in the mountains and in more complex landscapes the weather can vary hugely, and hikers live and die based on being properly prepared for the best and worst of conditions. My point is that weather forecasts are invaluable but not infallible. Be prepared!

Local weather forecasting in New Zealand:

MetService website and iOS app

As I am often in coastal areas I also check the Metservcies marine forecast eg Wellington Marine

NIWA can also be useful – their website

And local independent weather forecasting Weather Watch are also very useful: Weather Watch website

A few other international weather sites that have been suggested:

Wunderground website and iOS app

Weather Nerds website

Blitzortung live lightning map

How great to see a TV weather presenter use chalk! Contemporary weather forecasting is as much about modelling based on sensor data, so these next two are brilliant for clearly visualising weather patterns.

First: Windy.com website and iOS app

Apart from choosing location, and zooming in/out of a map of the world, note that you can also choose on the right hand side whether the display is wind, rain & thunder, temperature etc and down the bottom you can choose to play a simualtion of the forecasted weather today & into the future.

Another similar site is called Earth: website

By comparison Earth website does not provide such specific forecasting, but why I like it and also use it regularly is because when you zoom in to the area surrounding your location, you can see clearly the systems that are creating the weather. For New Zealand, as an island nation surrounded by a lot of ocean, it is invaluable to see where cyclones and anti-cyclones currently are, and their projected trajectory as that helps me clarify my thinking about incoming weather.

Of course these displayed simulations can’t be taken too literally – the animated wind display is not actually moving across the planet at the speed displayed on screen!

TIDES:
As both a photographer and a field recordist I am often working near the ocean, so having current reliable data about the sea is crucial. On my recent road trip I timed my visits to some locations primarily based on the tides. I can cope with variation in weather and happily shoot film from under a brolly. But some locations are inaccessible depending on the tide, and when shooting photos involving the sea the tides play a vital part in previsualizing the shot you wish to take.

One aspect of tides that I did not understand until recently is that the time for high tide slowly moves around the coast line! I stupidly thought when it was high tide in NZ it was high tide everywhere in NZ at the same time. Doh!

Of course high and low tide times can be calculated far into the future, because “they are produced by a combination of forces that are predictable. These forces are determined by the movements and positions of objects in our solar system, particularly the earth and the moon in relation to the sun.”
So even if planning for a trip months in the future, you can still find out the tides and plan accordingly.

NZ Metservice Tides website
Tides Chart website

The two groups of people who depend on the tide more than you or I, are fishermen and surfers. So it can be useful to ask them where they get their marine weather info from and it was a surfer who suggested Swellmap to me. Swellmap not only provides tide times but also predicts wave height and periodicity, and if you are recording sounds of or near the ocean this is invaluable information. For example when I recorded the SEAL VOCALS library I closely followed swellmap and at times saw wave heights of 4.5metres (taller than a house!) which would make for a totally wasted trip as the roar of the ocean would drown out any seals grunting!

But by observing both the weather systems and the ocean for the specific area I wanted to record, over a period of weeks I managed to wait and identify a number of days where the weather was settled and low tide timed for early morning, which I knew meant there would be less noisy tourists around.

Swellmap website and apps

FLIGHT PATHS:
Another factor to take into consideration primarily when field recording is flight paths. There is nothing so frustrating as being in the presence of a fascinating sound, hitting record and then sensing a distant plane approaching. While some smaller planes may have unpredictable flight paths, most larger planes follow well established flight paths and knowing where they are is key to avoiding them.

Flightradar24 is a global flight tracking service that provides you with real-time information about thousands of aircraft around the world. Flightradar24 tracks 180,000+ flights, from 1,200+ airlines, flying to or from 4,000+ airports around the world in real time. If you zoom in on a major international airport it is a little scary to see just how busy that traffic is!! And for example at the same zoom level compare New Zealand with Japan:

Apart from avoiding flight paths it is is also handy for checking arrival times of flights (eg when pick up someone from airport) or for passing time while waiting to record you can check and see what flight it is that is ruining your recording, and where it is headed to.

Flight radar 24 website and iOS app and Android app

Other useful apps: (more for photograpy)

Moon phases via timeanddate website

The Photographers Ephemeris website and iOS app and android app helps you plan outdoor photography in natural light, by seeing how the light will fall on the land, day or night, for any location on earth.

LightTrac app similarly helps you find and previsualize ideal light conditions, time and location to photograph by calculating and plotting the angle of Sun and Moon on top of a map, for any location.

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OK so who do you rely on for your weather forecast?
Who provides the most accurate forecasting for your country and locations?
What websites or apps do you reccomend?
What books do you reccomend for learning about the weather?

Email me and I will update this with your suggestions