Monday February 11, 2013 | 09:10 AM
Posted by Harold Johnson

As Blizzard 2013 rolled in, I hunkered down to a favorite stormy-day task. No, not buying milk, eggs, and bread. (We did that Thursday.) Rather, thumbing through some favorite Web sites to see what was happening in places near -- and not so near.

There is incredible information out there about the world around us. It is available to you, me, anyone with an Internet connection. And on a weekend when 27” of snow is falling and gale-force winds are whipping around, that information can provide amazing glimpses at places you couldn’t safely reach, even if they’re only a few miles away.

Take, for example, NERACOOS.org.

NERACOOS stands for the “Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal and Ocean Observing Stations.” Their site gives you access to dozens of New England weather stations, both coastal and out in the Gulf of Maine, that broadcast nicely packaged data to your screen, updated around the clock. Do you have family that live Downeast? Check out what’s happening at the height of a storm:

Wow! 70 mph sustained winds offshore at Mt Desert Rock during the worst of the blizzard! Text your cousin, are they OK?

Worried about your friend’s beach house in Casco Bay? Follow the storm surges live. Click the little green triangle at Portland, and a new window pops up with real-time wave height data.

If you woke up Saturday morning and checked this chart, you saw that the storm surge’s peak had happened overnight & at low tide. The surge was lowering as Saturday morning’s high-tide approached. Your friend’s house was likely to be spared.

NERACOOS is part of NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center. Click the NDBC link for live access to hundreds of buoys and monitoring stations the world over!

If your interests are more land-based, try Weather Underground. Curious about what’s happening in Kennebunkport? Type it in the search box. Temp, sunshine, humidity, sunrise/sunset, pressure, visibility, UV strength, pollen count, 5-day forecast, more! Want to pick a different nearby weather station to compare? Just click “Station Select” and choose:

I study how weather conditions affect the amount of debris washing into a beach. So I love the “History & Almanac” section. I can look at conditions a week ago -- or 10 years ago!

Want to watch a 24-hr timelapse video from a nearby Webcam to see the tides rise & fall or a storm come and go? Just go to the Webcam page.

Pick Maine (or whatever state you want) in the list, click a picture that shows up on the map, and click “Timelapse.” Here’s a lovely one from Cliff Isle, ME that rarely disappoints.

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. Our tax dollars have paid for NASA to send satellites into the sky, for NOAA to launch buoys and build weather stations, and interpret their data. If you wonder where that money goes, just spend some time clicking and searching. The wealth of information about the world around you -- at the tip of your fingers -- is jaw-dropping.

Have fun exploring! Tell me what cool things you find.

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About the Author

Visiting a Maine beach in March 2010, Harold Johnson was shocked by the ocean-borne debris left by recent storms. He grabbed a garbage bag and a camera, and hasn’t looked back.

Since then he has spent most of his free time studying marine pollution, coastal ecosystems, and the mysteries and science of ocean and shore.

Copyeditor and writer by trade, historian and archaeologist at heart, Johnson’s philosophy is simple: Dig below the surface, travel the currents, make the connections, learn. Then share what you learn. He lives in Saco with his wife and young daughter. Follow on Twitter @FlotsamDiaries.

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