What Is METAR? And Does That Mean We Can Fly a Kite Today?

2012-09-13 16:47:00.000 – Brian Fitzgerald,  Weather Observer/Education Specialist

A Perfect Day for Flying a Kite

It’s 60 degrees, the winds are low and visibility is over 100 miles in every direction. It’s days like these that make it easy to forget about the dead of winter and the frozen insides of turbulent clouds. It may not be the most extreme weather day up here on Mount Washington, but as I train and study for my METAR certification, it begs the question: Why do we take weather observations?

First, for those of you who are not familiar with what METAR (translated sometimes as Meteorological Aerodrome Report) is, simply put, it’s a standardized code that expresses current weather data that is mostly used by pilots and meteorologists. As you can imagine for pilots it’s extremely important to know current weather in your flight path for a safe trip, and for meteorologists it’s important to have a standard language to communicate to the National Weather Service with, along with other national and international weather organizations. By having a standard code we communicate with our regional National Weather Service office in Gray, Maine, which allows them to disseminate current weather conditions on the summit here, as well as give them important data for forecasting.

Now to get at the bigger question, we take hourly weather observations for much the same reason that we have a standard weather code. Weather stations, both automated and manual (human-powered), take weather observations every hour of every day mostly as a means of letting you and I know what the weather is like at the same time. This data is invaluable, not just to the National Weather Service but to answering more questions like: Is it safe to hike to the summit today? Or perhaps more importantly: Is today a good day for flying kites on Mount Washington?

Here’s an example of one of our METARs from today:

METAR – 131955Z 26018G22KT 100SM FEW220 FEW250 14/08 RMK

“131955Z” is the time of the observation, so in this case 13 (the day of the month), followed by the time of day, 1955Z, which is Zulu or UTC time. In eastern daylight savings time (EDT), this would be 3:55PM.

“26018G22KT” talks about the wind, where 260 is the direction the wind is coming from (so just south of due west), and 18 refers to an 18 knot wind, gusting to 22 knots.

“100SM” refers to our visibility, so in this case 100 statute miles.

“FEW220 FEW250” talks about the condition of the sky, where FEW220 means there are a few clouds (covering 1/8 or 2/8’s of the sky) at 22,000 feet above our station, and FEW250 means a few clouds at 25,000 feet.

“14/08” is our temperature on the left, followed by the dewpoint on the right in, both in celsius.

“RMK” is the Remark section, where if we had a special remark, like “PTCHY VAL FG ALQDS” or “Patchy Valley Fog All Quads” we could share it.

Observer Footnote: Now through September 19, the Mount Washington Observatory is competing against thousands of nonprofits across the country for a share of $5,000,000 through the Chase Community Giving contest. Nearly 200 charities will be awarded grants through this contest, and Mount Washington Observatory has a legitimate shot at winning a grant of up to $250,000 to support its work in research and education. Grants are awarded to the top vote-getters, so I’m asking for your help. Please cast a vote for the Observatory! To do so go HERE!


Brian Fitzgerald,  Weather Observer/Education Specialist

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