A tornado warned supercell in Nebraska on May 26, 2013. (Ian Livingston/The Washington Post)

For some people, the weather is more than a conversation starter. An American Meteorological Society survey found that most meteorologists developed a passion for the weather in their late elementary school years. As an elementary schooler, I read every piece of weather literature that I could. That said, it is never too late to discover your passion, learn about the weather and become the go-to weather geek for your friends and family.

With just a little specialized weather knowledge, you can help inform your social network about impending storms. When boating, hiking or golfing, you can be the person to help guide your loved ones to safety. Or when a friend or relative is planning an outdoor event, you can assist with scheduling so that it is rain-free and stress-free.

Not to mention, tracking the weather and learning more about it is fun.

Educational resources

Free educational resources exist online for those looking to quickly learn about a specific weather topic and build their knowledge base.

A great introduction to weather basics is through free National Weather Service storm spotting classes, known as their Skywarn program. By taking classes through this program you can become an official Weather Service spotter and send in your own observations of rain, snow and storm characteristics that are used in weather monitoring.

To get a bit more in depth, Matt Lanza, a meteorologist and the managing editor at Space City Weather, recommends MetEd, which is run by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. It features hundreds of free online educational lessons and allows you to enroll at your own pace.

“They offer a phenomenal amount of video lessons explaining all kinds of topics in meteorology, case studies, etc.,” Lanza said.

Marshall Shepherd, professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia, recommends JetStream, the National Weather Service’s free online weather education program.

According to JetStream’s website, the program seeks to “provide educators, emergency managers, or anyone interested in learning about weather with comprehensive, well-organized, colorfully illustrated curriculums designed to help teach about the wonders and dangers that abound in the Earth’s atmosphere."

If you’re super motivated, consider seeking Penn State’s online weather forecasting certificate, a 12-credit program designed for beginners. It sets out to teach you how to interpret weather data and models, use the latest analysis tools, and make your own predictions.

A model forecast wrongly shows heavy snow in the District in early December. (PivotalWeather.com)

Outside of online classrooms, weather forums exist as a more casual way to learn about and share perspectives on the weather.

Meredith Menken, a digital strategy consultant and longtime weather hobbyist, is a self-described lurker on AmericanWx, a weather-centric forum in which enthusiasts and meteorologists alike discuss model runs, observe the weather and simply socialize.

It’s “a great place to lurk and learn from many viewpoints,” Menken said.

Phone apps

While our phones all give us the basic rundown of the weather, the weather community and the resources available online go much more in-depth than what Apple Weather or Google Weather provides.

That said, as a beginner following the weather, your native Weather app isn’t a bad place to start.

“If [you] have an iPhone, the native weather app will get you about 75 percent of what you need on a day-to-day basis,” Lanza said.

For those looking to be deeper hobbyists, going beyond your native app is necessary. Lanza recommended Weather Underground and Storm, both of which are released by the Weather Company. These apps come with Doppler radar and weather alerts — both of which are key in monitoring potentially disruptive or dangerous weather.

Lanza also strongly recommended that people pay attention to their local television weather teams.

“These are the experts. They know their regions, and you’ll be hard-pressed to do better. If you must use an app, find whichever local TV weather team you like best and utilize their app,” Lanza said.

The Carrot Weather app. (Carrot Weather)

Katie Wheatley, a weather hobbyist and a contributor for U.S. Tornadoes, recommended a weather app called Carrot Weather.

“I have the Carrot Weather app for day-to-day forecasts that will also alert me when precipitation comes in the area,” Wheatley said.

Carrot Weather allows users to switch between weather providers, customize the personality of the forecasts it delivers and access to 70 years of historical weather data. The app costs $4.99 on iOS and Android and $14.99 to download on a Mac, with premium subscriptions for $0.99 per month.

Wheatley and Lanza also recommended having a Twitter account. Many local weather teams and meteorologists are active on Twitter, which has a flourishing weather community. Simply following your local meteorologists can put you a leg up from your friends in knowing when a summer storm might ruin your beach outing or when a snowstorm may be moving in.

Shepherd recommended RadarScope, calling it the radar app “that most meteorologists use.”

“Free radar apps probably are fine for the average person, but for the meteorologist or serious enthusiast, you are really going to want something like RadarScope,” Shepherd said.

RadarScope, available for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, does come at a price. Access to RadarScope costs $9.99 on iOS and Android and $29.99 on Mac and Windows with optional “Pro Tier” subscription models that cost $9.99 per year for the first tier and $99.99 per year for the second tier.

A radar view of storms in April 2019 from the RadarScope app. (RadarScope)

Models and forecasting

Shepherd emphasized the importance of getting credible forecasts directly from the source, such as forecasts from the National Hurricane Center.

“I always recommend the major sources: the National Hurricane Center, National Weather Service and NOAA and other credible sources. Those are always where I would ask people to start,” Shepherd said.

For those looking to go even deeper, there are many places online where you can view raw data from weather forecasting models. Over the past decade, this raw data has become increasingly available to the general public for relatively cheap prices — with some sources even being free.

Tropical Tidbits (free), Pivotal Weather (free/subscription) and Weather.us (free/subscription) are among the bigger names in the business.

Shepherd praised Tropical Tidbits and its owner, Levi Cowan, for being a great resource, particularly for hurricane season.

Cowan “is very passionate about tropical meteorology studies, he has a lot of resources there, so it’s just a very solid platform with a lot of thorough information,” Shepherd said.

A simulated IR satellite image of Tropical Cyclone Kenneth as it approaches Mozambique in April 2019. (Tropical Tidbits)

Model-generated snowfall maps from Tropical Tidbits and Pivotal Weather are often shared during the winter months as well.

Wheatley credited the Jan. 25, 2000, snowstorm — that came as a surprise to many — for her growing fascination with weather.

“Back then, we didn’t have all the same access to models as we do now, so I used to watch every weather forecast on the local news and the Weather Channel to stay informed.”

People can fall in love with the weather for many reasons. It can grow out of a love of maps and graphics. It can emerge from childhood experiences of significant weather events. It can simply develop out of amazement for the beauty and destruction Mother Nature can cause. Either way, it is never too late to pay attention to the weather.

Zachary Rosenthal, a University of Virginia student double majoring in media studies and in leadership and public policy, is a senior writer for the Cavalier Daily.