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Create a real-time map

For the purposes of this exercise, you're a contractor hired by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct weather analysis. Your first task is to create a map showing real-time weather data around the world.

You'll create your map on ArcGIS Online, where NOAA has made available several real-time weather datasets. ArcGIS Online is also a good choice because of its analytical and sharing capabilities.


You can also complete this lesson using ArcGIS Enterprise.

Set bookmarks

First, you'll sign in to ArcGIS Online (or ArcGIS Enterprise) and begin a new map. You plan to analyze weather data in several regions worldwide, so you'll set bookmarks for these regions to navigate to them quickly.

  1. Sign in to your ArcGIS organizational account.

    If you don't have an organizational account, you can sign up for an ArcGIS free trial.

  2. At the top of your organization home page, click Map.

    Map option on ribbon

    A new map opens. The basemap and map extent for a new map are set to your organization's defaults. Most organizations use the Topographic basemap as the default. You can check the name of your basemap in the Contents pane.

  3. Click the Show Contents of Map button.

    Show Contents of Map button

    The name of the basemap is listed.

  4. If necessary, on the ribbon, click Basemap and choose Topographic.

    Next, you'll add bookmarks.

  5. If necessary, navigate to the continental United States.
  6. On the ribbon, click Bookmarks and choose Add Bookmark.

    Add Bookmark option

  7. For the name of the bookmark, type Continental United States and press Enter.
  8. Add bookmarks for the following regions:
    • West Europe
    • East Asia
    • Australia
    • Southeast Brazil
    • North Africa
    • Southeast United States
    • California, United States
    • Colorado, United States

    Locations of bookmarked areas


    Your bookmarks do not need to match the extents in the example image exactly. You can also add bookmarks for any other areas in which you're interested.

  9. On the ribbon, click Bookmarks and choose the Continental United States bookmark.

    The map navigates to the extent you were at when you created the bookmark.

Add data

Next, you'll add data to the map. Your data will come from several sources, including NOAA and the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, Esri's curated collection of geographic information from around the world. These sources are authoritative, so you know the data will be accurate.

First, you'll add another basemap, the World Light Gray Base. This basemap contains less geographic information than the Topographic basemap, so it'll emphasize the real-time weather data. However, you want the ability to turn it off if more geographic context is needed, so you'll add it as a layer, not a basemap.

  1. On the ribbon, click Add and choose Browse Living Atlas Layers.

    Browse Living Atlas Layers option

  2. Search for World Light Gray Base. In the list of results, for World Light Gray Base by Esri, click the Add button.

    Add World Light Gray Base layer

    The layer is added to the map.

    Map with World Light Gray Base layer

    Next, you'll add weather data. You'll start with imagery taken by the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES), operated by NOAA. You could search for each layer you intend to add, but for the purposes of this lesson, you'll save time by adding the layer with a URL.

  3. On the ribbon, click Add and choose Add Layer from Web.
  4. In the Add Layer from Web window, for URL, copy and paste the following URL:

  5. Click Add Layer.

    The sat meteo imagery time layer is added to the map.


    If the layer does not add, remove the s from https and try again. If that still doesn't work, click Add and choose Search for Layers. Change the scope of the search to ArcGIS Online and type sat meteo imagery time. A similar process should work for all of the subsequent layers.

    Map with GOES imagery layer


    Real-time data updates periodically. Your layers may differ from the example images.

    You know this layer shows satellite imagery, but not much else. You'll open the layer's metadata to learn more.

  6. In the Contents pane, for sat meteo imagery time, click the More Options button and choose Description.

    Description for the sat meteo imagery time layer

    The layer's metadata opens. It contains detailed descriptions of the agency responsible for the satellite, the sensors that produce the imagery, and how often it is updated (every 30 minutes).

    The imagery not only shows what is visible to the human eye, but also infrared light. Infrared sensors help show the relative warmth of objects, which is important for determining the temperature of clouds. In this imagery, white clouds are colder, while dark clouds are warmer.

  7. Close the metadata. In the Contents pane, for sat meteo imagery time, click More Options and choose Rename.
  8. Rename the layer GOES Satellite Imagery and click OK.

    The layer completely covers all layers under it. You'll create a copy of the layer and make it transparent. You'll then be able to switch between the transparent and opaque versions of the layer as needed.

  9. For the GOES Satellite Imagery layer, click More Options and choose Copy. Rename the copied layer GOES Satellite Imagery Transparent.
  10. For the GOES Satellite Imagery Transparent layer, click More Options, point to Transparency, and drag the slider to about 75 percent.

    Transparency set to 75 percent

  11. In the Contents pane, uncheck both GOES Satellite Imagery layers to turn them off.

    Next, you'll add precipitation data.

  12. On the ribbon, click Add and choose Add Layer from Web. Add a layer using the following URL:

    Map with precipitation layer

    The metadata for this layer explains that this layer was created by combining reflectivity radar data from next-generation radar (NEXRAD) locations across the United States.

    These radars work by sending out radar waves that reflect off precipitation. Based on how much of the radar's power is reflected, how long the signal took to return to the radar, and how much the radar's frequency changes, the radar can determine the location and intensity of precipitation. Areas that are blue or light green generally indicate light rainfall, while darker greens, yellows, oranges, and reds tend to indicate increasingly more severe rainfall.

    The data does not extend far from the United States national boundaries and updates every 4 minutes.

  13. Rename the layer NEXRAD Precipitation. Uncheck the layer to turn it off.

    Next, you'll add data that shows active hurricanes.

  14. Add a layer using the following URL:

    The Hurricane Active layer is added to the map.

  15. Rename the layer Active Hurricanes. Pan and zoom the map until you locate an active hurricane.

    Depending on the time of year when you take this lesson, there may be no active hurricanes (the Atlantic hurricane season goes from June to November). If no hurricanes are active, you can skip the steps related to hurricane data.

    Hurricane Xavier off the coast of Mexico

    The orange points show the observed track of the hurricane. The black points and text are the forecasted track of the hurricane. The gray area indicates the possible margin of error in the forecast. The data was compiled by NOAA but is located on the Living Atlas. The layer updates every 15 minutes.


    The metadata for the Active Hurricanes layer doesn't contain much information, but the layer's details page does.

    Lastly, you'll add data for wind speed and direction.

  16. Turn off the Active Hurricanes layer and navigate to the Continental United States bookmark. Add a layer using the following URL:

    The NOAA METAR current wind speed direction layer is added to the map.

    Map with wind speed and direction

    This layer covers the world, although not uniformly. Each arrow or point represents either a weather station (on land) or a weather buoy (on water). The direction of the area indicates wind direction, while the color indicates speed.

  17. Click the Show Map Legend button.

    Show Map Legend button

    The legend indicates which arrow colors represent which range of wind speeds.

    Wind speeds in legend

  18. Click the Show Contents of Map button to return to the Contents pane.
  19. Rename the NOAA METAR current wind speed direction layer NOAA METAR Wind Speed and Direction.

Create additional layers

You've added a lot of data. However, you don't have layers that represents air pressure and temperature, essential components of weather and weather analysis. Fortunately, the wind speed and direction layer also contains data on these components. You'll examine the available data, copy the layer, and symbolize the copies to show the appropriate parameter.

Although the copies will have the same data as the original, by making three different layers it'll be easier to visualize and analyze the data.

  1. In the Contents pane, click the NOAA METAR Wind Speed and Direction layer.

    The layer expands, showing two sublayers: Stations and Buoys.

  2. Point to Stations and click the Show Table button.

    Show Table button

    The table opens. It contains all the layer's attribute information. The table includes the Air Temperature and Altimeter Pressure fields.

    Air Temperature and Altimeter Pressure fields

    You'll make two copies of the layer, one to display each of these fields.

  3. Close the table. For the NOAA METAR Wind Speed and Direction layer, click More Options and choose Copy.
  4. Rename the copied layer NOAA METAR Pressure. Create another copy and rename it NOAA METAR Temperature.

    The copied layers have the same symbology as the original. For now, you'll change the symbology of both layers to show only the locations of stations and buoys as points. Later, you'll use more advanced styles to depict the data in a way that's useful for your analysis.

  5. Click the NOAA METAR Pressure layer. Point to Stations and click the Change Style button.

    Change Style button

  6. In the Change Style pane, for Choose an attribute to show, choose Show location only.

    Show location only option

  7. Click Done.
  8. Change the style for the Buoys sublayer to Show location only.
  9. For the NOAA METAR Temperature layer, change the style for the Stations and Buoys sublayers to Show location only.
  10. Turn off all three NOAA METAR layers.

    Lastly, you'll add state and county boundaries for the United States. These layers will add geographic context to your map, but they'll also be useful for your analysis if you want to examine weather in a specific geographic area.

  11. Add two layers, using the following URLs:

    Map with state and county boundaries

  12. Rename the new layers Counties and States, respectively. Turn off both layers.

    Your map now has all the data it needs. You'll save it before proceeding.

  13. On the ribbon, click Save and choose Save As.

    Save As option

  14. In the Save Map window, for Title, type Real-Time Weather Map. For Tags, type Precipitation, Air Pressure, Hurricanes, Wind Speed, and Wind Direction. For Summary, type This map contains real-time weather data from NOAA.
  15. Click Save Map.

You've created a map with a large amount of weather data, showing precipitation, hurricanes, wind speed and direction, pressure, temperature, and satellite imagery. This data is updated automatically by sensors and radars around the world.

In the next lesson, you'll explore and learn about the weather patterns found in your map. Then, you'll predict future weather, as well as current weather in areas that don't have data.