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Explore gift recommendations for Northwest weather watchers

Erin Hennessey
Among the things to learn about Northwest weather is how and why massive Mount Rainier creates its own micro-climate that often produces disc-shaped lenticular clouds near its peak.

Indulging the curiosity of a loved one who wants to learn more about the weather is a great way to show your affection over the holidays, says KNKX weather expert Cliff Mass. And he says it’s one of the most frequent questions he gets.

“People want to know what kind of weather gifts they could give – what they could get for themselves and other people,” says Mass, who teaches atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.

He’s happy to provide his list of ideas. Mass says all these items are educational and help people connect with nature.


Many people are looking for books that will teach them about the weather. In the Northwest, a good bet is Mass’ own text on the topic – the only one specifically about the meteorology of our region. "Weather of the Pacific Northwest" is a good primer.

“I highly recommend it,” Mass quips, with a smile. (And this reporter confers; it is a great resource.)

"Issac’s Storm" by another local writer, Eric Larsen, tells the story of the Galveston Hurricane, called the deadliest in history. Mass says it’s a great read.

If you want to read about storm chasers, another good read Mass recommends is "The Man Who Caught The Storm" by Brantley Hargrove. It’s about storm chaser Tim Samaras, an autodidact who pushed the boundaries of his obsession and went on to host a popular TV show on Discovery Channel.

Finally, if a good textbook on meteorology is what you’re looking for, Mass recommends one co-written by a colleague of his at UW, called "Weather: A Concise Introduction" by Greg Hakim and Jérôme Patoux.  Mass says it provides an excellent starting point if you want a basic understanding of atmospheric science.


If you’re not big on reading, Mass says a good option for learning about the sky isa cloud chart. There are a lot of different ones available online, some you can download for free. But Mass likes the poster-sized ones available for $10-$15.  


Another affordable gift Mass really likes: a rain gauge. He prefers the simple, plastic ones available at hardware or garden stores ($10 -$25).  Or you can get a higher-end one online. Mass notes that checking them yourself provides an interactive weather experience, which also can be highly educational.

“I don’t recommend getting one of the digital ones that just sit inside your house. I think it’s so important to get out there and measure the rain every day. It really connects you,” Mass says. “A rain gauge is a great gift – particularly for a child, to get them used to measuring what’s going on outside.”


Mass says excellent indoor-outdoor digital thermometers are available for  $10-$40. Installed at home, they display the temperature both inside and outside your home. Mass offers this example.


If you have more money to spend and want to delve deeper into weather observation, Mass suggests considering a complete weather station. These will measure wind, pressure, temperature, humidity and rainfall, and most interface with your computer so you can plot up your data.  They range in price from less than $100 to $1,000.

Mass says Costco offers a very affordable one for $75, though he wonders about the quality. “The instrumentation may not be so great, but at least you can get started that way,” he says.  

If you have more to spend, Mass says consider springing for something like a Davis Vantage Pro 2 .

“These are really good weather stations and they cost from $400 to $1,000 dollars, but this is professional class instrumentation – it’s really exciting you can get something that good,” he says.


These days, Mass says, easy-to-download smartphone apps also offer a great way to get more informed about the weather.  

If you want a few one, he recommends the Weather Channel app, which provides local forecasts along with some satellite pictures and radar. “It’s a good way to start,” Mass says.    

“But I really recommend a radar app,” he says. These can range in price from $2 to more than $10. The one Mass likes is called RadarScope.  

“It shows you where you are, it animates the weather radar, so you can see exactly when rain will be coming in and whether you’re going to be dry for that walk or bike ride,” he says.

Weather with Cliff Mass airs at 9:02 a.m. Friday, right after BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, anda popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to podcasts of Weather with Cliff Mass shows, viaiTunes or Google Play.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to