The National Weather Service and How It Impacts Our Lives

The National Weather Service and How It Impacts Our Lives

The National Weather Service is the federal agency responsible for monitoring weather conditions across the United States.


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Earth Science, Meteorology, Geography

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People depend on weather forecasts everyday. We rely on accurate predictions of sunny skies, chilly winds, or torrential rains to help us plan.

The National Weather Service (NWS) is responsible for giving this constant, important information to Americans. The NWS is a federal agency that monitors weather conditions across the United States. It is the nation's official source for weather forecast information.

The NWS is located in Silver Spring, Maryland. It is located alongside its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The NWS issues as many as 1.5 million forecasts per year.

The NWS issues warnings about dangerous heat levels, thunderstorms, and tornadoes. It issues these warnings to meteorologists, or weather forecasters. Local TV news, radio stations, and sites on the internet and smartphone apps also use NWS forecasts.

Forecasting Can Be Very Specific

The NWS has nearly 5,000 employees and it operates at all times of day. Meteorologists and other scientists and staff work to keep people, families, and communities informed at all times.

NWS also watches for developing weather conditions. Predictions of serious approaching weather can save lives. For example, in May 2013, the National Weather Service anticipated severe weather in the state of Oklahoma, five days before an extremely powerful tornado hit the city of Moore. The NWS' predictions got more accurate: A half an hour before it touched down, a tornado warning was issued. Even though 24 people were killed and hundreds were injured, the warning likely prevented many more deaths and injuries.

Watching and forecasting weather is a big job. The NWS has 122 separate weather forecast offices. They are located in all regions of the continental United States. The NWS also has offices in Alaska, Hawai'i, and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands (composed of three U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands), and three independent countries (the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau). Each office focuses on the weather in its surrounding 20 to 50 counties. The NWS forecasters also live where other Americans do and are familiar with their region's weather patterns. That makes accurate forecasts more likely.

Pinpointing Weather from the Mountains to the Seas

The NWS also gives special forecasts for recreation spots such as mountain summits, lakes, and beaches. It has observation stations and webcams close by to show the weather in real-time. But these areas can be tricky. Approaching winds, storms, or heat might interact with the geography of higher elevations or waterways to create unusual weather conditions.

NWS also has "mountain point forecasts." Hikers can use these forecasts to check winds, temperatures, and precipitation at the tops of high mountains. The agency also has "marine point forecasts." These forecasts notify communities near lakes, rivers, and along coasts. They warn people about winds, rip currents, wave heights, and flow rates.

No matter the occasion or the weather, the National Weather Service has us covered.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Clint Parks
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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