Before getting battered by high winds this summer, some hurricane watchers are logging on to the Net to check out the latest in weather forecasts.
Weather sites, an estimated 10,000 of them, are popping all over the Web. They range from The Weather Channel's home page to local media sites running the most current information in their cities or regions.
In the latest example, The Weather Underground, an online publisher of real-time weather conditions, yesterday began offering a product dubbed AutoBrand weather that allows users to build their own weather sites.
Autobrand will target media sites that need more than the daily weather updates used by television and newspapers to offer users more accurate information, according to Alan Steremberg, Weather Underground's director of technology. The service costs $50 a month.
AT&T will team up with Weather Underground later this year to release a text-based Web browser on its wireless cellular phone so users can check weather anywhere or any time, Steremberg said.
The Web can be a vital tool for getting weather information out quickly. But the National Weather Service discourages using its site if your area is hit by a natural disaster because it does not issue emergency warnings or alerts online.
"We get it up there as soon as we can, but [the Web] is a secondary source of information because it can go down and be altered," said Stephanie Kennitzer, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service in Silver Spring, Maryland.
However, other sites tracking storms do issue advanced weather warnings and information on conditions ranging from high winds to floods. Storm97 calls itself "Hurricane Central" for monitoring hurricanes and reporting on the aftermath. When Hurricane Danny blew in last week, Storm97 increased its hits 1,200 percent.
Storm97 also offers users chat rooms to discuss weather and storm activity. Net users find this useful in making their own educated guesses for the way the weather will turn. "What I try to do is take all of the information that is given and combine it with my information to make the best judgment call that I can make," Internet consultant and avid weather watcher Tony LaManna wrote in an email.
Steve Weingart went searching for sites when he was heading to the Caribbean on his boat last week. "I use the Net for business travel weather checks all the time, and since I'm a sailor living in south Florida, I use the Net for weather, boating forecasts, and tracking during hurricane season," he said.
Although weather sites can be updated by the minute, nothing is ever a foolproof prediction when it comes to nature. "Weather forecasting is very hard due to the fact that some storms seem to have a mind of their own," LaManna wrote.