• On predicting clear skies at Observatory Park

    Question

    Can you suggest a reliable website to use to help determine the weather for trips to Observatory Park? It's a bit of a drive for us and we'd like to travel when there's a higher chance of visibility.

    I appreciate your help!

    Naturalist's Response

    Ah, the eternal dilemma of stargazers: “Should I stay, or should I go?”

    All of us would love to be able to predict future cloud conditions. Regrettably, there’s no certain method for foretelling out how cloudy the sky will be in advance of a visit to Observatory Park.

    What’s more, it’s human nature to hope that we can “shop around” from different weather forecasts until we find one that tells us what we want to hear. (It’s an all-too-common sight to find two astronomers standing in the rain while one keeps insisting THEIR smartphone predicts clear skies.)

    With that said, here are some of the best resources for checking on cloud conditions before a visit to Observatory Park:

    • The National Weather Service’s Cleveland forecast office has a terrific webpage that displays a wealth of information on the current weather conditions in Northeast Ohio. It offers current weather radar (which tells more about precipitation than clouds), as well as the current satellite view (which is much better at showing clouds). You can also use their form to request a forecast for Montville, Ohio (zip code 44064) – the home of Observatory Park.
    • If you want to delve deeper into the satellite imagery, I recommend going straight to the source: the view from the GOES-East weather satellite includes a summary page for the Great Lakes region. (The truth is that whichever website you access to consume weather-satellite imagery for our area, it will just offer a re-hashed version of imagery from this satellite.) My favorite resource is to click on the “animation loop” image and see the past 12 hours of cloud conditions.

    • If you’re truly curious about current weather conditions at Observatory Park, you can also access our weather station.  However, this is much more useful for reporting temperature, precipitation and wind conditions – it doesn’t measure cloud cover.
    • A popular forecasting site used in the astronomy community is the Clear Sky Chart service. Here’s the Clear Sky Chart forecast for Observatory Park. This forecast is based on a model developed by meteorologist Alan Rahill that relies on a sophisticated collection of weather data and tea leaves to predict future atmospheric conditions. (For locations in the famously-soggy Great Lakes region, its accuracy rivals that of the Magic 8-Ball.)

    Of course, all the resources listed above are inferior to the most-reliable gauge of current cloud conditions: looking out a window. If you live anywhere within an hour’s drive of Observatory Park, you are likely experiencing the same cloud conditions as Observatory Park. (In general, if it’s cloudy in Mentor or Mayfield or Mantua, it will likely be cloudy in Montville, too.)

    The unpredictable nature of clouds is part of the reason why we typically schedule six night-sky viewing programs per month; it improves our odds of catching a night with good weather.

    Thanks for your email, and here’s to good-weather luck in the future!

    -Naturalist Chris Mentrek