How cold is it?

 

Last updated 1/11/2023 at Noon

BILL BARTLETT

Weather apps may give misleading data on Sisters Country — especially first thing in the morning.

Many a folk in Sisters Country check their phone, tablet, or computer in the morning for the temperature. Your phone’s telling you it’s 20 outside and you step out the door and know instantly that it’s nowhere near 20, more like 10 or 15. Then you get in your car or truck, let it warm up, and the outside temperature gauge is reading 6 or 8.

You trust the car’s reading, as you should – they are highly accurate, experts say. Besides, it more closely aligns with what your body is telling you. You’re irked, and maybe even mutter obscenities under your breath. Your wrath is directed toward the weather man.

It shouldn’t be. The National Weather Service, a unit of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), is actually likely to be closer to your car’s temp or your body’s instincts. It’s the apps, especially the ones sitting on your phone, that are more likely to be off by as much as 10 degrees.

Why? Lots of reasons, some technical. Mostly it’s location. The app may or may not know exactly where you are. No matter your phone – Apple or Android – if it’s newer than, say, 2015, it comes with a weather app. Just like the TV or radio weather guy or gal, they all get their information from the exact same source — NOAA.

The National Weather Service serves us here in Deschutes County from Pendleton. The NOAA has a weather station in Sisters at 44.30445N, 121.53909W. Any guess where that is? Exactly! Sisters Eagle Airport. Accurate weather is a matter of life and death for pilots and passengers.

So, since everybody gets weather from the same source, how can it differ from app to app? Take Saturday at 10:00 am. The NOAA said it was 45 degrees but Accuweather said 40 degrees, Weather.com (the same as The Weather Channel, both owned by IBM) read 41 degrees, and Weather Underground told us it was 41 degrees. They were all an hour or two behind NOAA in their updates, and that’s the essential difference. But, they were all reasonably close — at 10 a.m.

Not so in the early hours of the morning where, in the scenario above, we’ve all experienced the wide discrepancies. Alas, The Nugget has no clear answer for that, but not for lack of trying. The NOAA in Pendleton shrugs it off. The most likely explanation is location: your app not knowing or being confused about where you are.

If you leave your “location services” switched on in an Apple phone or “location” turned on in an Android phone, the weather app knows precisely where you are. One in four phone users say they never or rarely turn on this tracking feature, therefore around 25 percent of weather app users may not get precise weather data.

Location further compounds weather app precision when you check weather from your computer. Over 95 percent of Sisters Country folk get their internet feed from TDS, formerly Bend Broadband. So, if you type in “my weather” in your Google or Safari search bar you will get a snapshot of Southwest Bend weather, because to the cyber world you look like you are in Bend, where the TDS servers sit. It will say Bend in the result, but if you read past that you might think it’s weather for Sisters.

Location also comes into play based on where you are in Sisters Country. In our earliest years we learned that elevation affects temperature. Camp Sherman sits 219 feet lower than Sisters, so one can assume that it’d be a degree or two or three warmer there. When Camp Sherman (44.46N, 121.62W) asks NOAA for their weather, alas, they get the weather for station K6K5 — Eagle Airport.

You’d expect Hoodoo to be colder at 5,700 feet — and it is, most days. At 10 a.m. on Saturday when it was 41 degrees in Sisters, it was 30 degrees at Hoodoo Butte. Skiers will tell you that it can often be warmer at Hoodoo than in town, due to the occasional inversion.

Inversion means that the temperature change due to altitude increase is reversed. This is most notable in the mountains, where the cold air flows down toward the bottom of the valleys. It mainly occurs during high-pressure, cloud-free days with little wind.

Joe Gunterman, who lives in Tollgate, swears that they have their own weather and it’s the coldest spot in Sisters. Who are we to argue?

Basically, before you yell at the weather guy or gal, check that the app you use is set to Sisters. It’s possible that you are unknowingly getting Redmond’s or Bend’s. Weather Underground is one that is keyed precisely to Sisters Weather Station ID: KORSISTE96; Station Name: ROJOGAOR. However, a nice feature lets you choose KORSISTE87 atop McKinley Butte if that’s closer to home.

Real-time readings are altogether different than forecasting. Each company/app that creates forecasts uses different models, different processes, and is edited by different meteorologists. So, different forecasts for the same location will easily differ, with some generally more accurate than others.

 

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