Tools to Understand Your Environment for Better Disaster Planning

Tools to Understand Your Environment for Better Disaster Planning

August 22

More and more we’re tracking things around us like how many steps we take, our heart-rate, and other biological information that can help us be healthier and understand more about our bodies. This information can be useful, but it might not be as useful as the environmental information we’ve got available to us right now.

Below are a few of the best tools you can use to understand just about everything you want to know about the world around you. Some of these are useful for disaster planning and offer information about when and where severe weather events are happening or where earthquakes have happened recently, while some of these are just interesting and fun. Whatever the case, it’s always useful to know as much as you can about your own environment.

General Weather

Possibly the best weather site available, Wunderground provides exhaustively detailed weather information about your specific area. Using this tool, I can tell you when the sun rose and set in Draper, Utah (where our corporate offices are), I can tell you how full the moon is, how humid it is, and what the pollen index is. My friend Terry, a private pilot, even uses Wunderground to check wind-speeds and the weather outlook so he knows whether or not it’s safe to take his small, experimental aircraft off the ground. Wunderground also includes historical data, astronomical data, and just about any details you’d care to know about the weather today, tomorrow, or next week.


Nullschool is a really cool resource that has a visual map of real-time global wind patterns. Follow the colored streams across the entire globe to see what’s happening in your area. It may not be particular useful or anything specific, but it sure looks pretty.

A more useful tool, though, is the live Tornado Map from Wunderground, which shows reported tornados, as well as areas of high wind. There’s another map that’s great for live-tracking hurricanes and tropical storms available from Wunderground as well.


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) have a number of great maps that give you real-time information on the ocean. The tide and currents map gives you data on water levels reported by instruments in the coastal regions of the United States. Additionally, the National Data Buoy Center can give you detailed data on various weather stations floating in the ocean and a few lakes, which is particularly useful in tracking tropical storms and hurricanes.


The world is extremely unstable. It shifts and rumbles on a near constant basis. Although your area might not experience earthquakes too often, they happen several times an hour across the globe. The United States Geological Survey records earthquakes across the states and lists the most significant ones on their website. They also have a live map of all the seismic activity in the US that’s great for analyzing geological activity in your area.

Space weather

Weather on earth affects us the most, but when’s the last time you thought about space weather? NASA’s integrated space weather analysis system, or iSWA, gives you information about space that covers everything the sun, the heliosphere, magnetosphere, and other science-y things you remember from school. It has so much info that it’s a little bit overwhelming, but you can easily create your own space-weather dashboard, which is great if you understand what it all means.

Flood Water  

There’s a really great page by mapping software maker Esri full of live information about floods across the US. It’s got information about floods from Twitter and Youtube, along with public flash flood warnings from NOAA. The map shows areas that are flooding and areas where flood warnings are in place. It’s a really great tool for those who live in areas that are prone to flooding.

The Sun

The Helioviewer is a solar visualization tool developed by the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. It allows you to see what’s going on with the sun, and even lets you create your own short videos of solar activity. Here’s a neat user-made video someone created using the Helioviewer.

Following solar flares, solar wind, and other sun-based phenomena is typically a job for NASA, but it’s still pretty awesome to see what’s going on up there.

The Moon

I’ve dreamed of visiting the moon since I was little. Of course, they don’t send writers to the moon, so I’ve had to satisfy my curiosity with research instead. Some of my favorite tools for research come from Google. Using Google Moon you can look at the landing sites our Apollo crews once visited. Better yet, you can use the latest version of Google Earth, which now has tours of the lunar landing sites narrated by actual Apollo astronauts, 3D models of the rovers, panoramic photos, and a more. It might be the closest you can get to the moon without actually going there.

The Night Sky

Look up to the sky at night and you’ll see millions of bright specks. Some are stars and a few of the brighter ones are planets, but how do you know which planets are which and which stars make up which constellations? Google Sky Map is a neat smartphone and tablet app that uses GPS to display constellations, planets, galaxies and stars on your device. As you point your device at various celestial bodies, it becomes a lens through which you can view a bunch of additional information about the skies above you, and even those below you on the other side of the earth. I’ve found that it’s accurate enough to tell you which planets are which and which constellations go by what name, but it’s not designed as a tool for serious scientific research. In any case, it’s totally awesome.

We live in a big wide world full of seriously amazing things, the more you can learn about the world around you, the better equipped you can be to deal with whatever types of phenomena come about, weather, disaster, or otherwise.

Photo credit: NOAA via Wikimedia