Feels like a dry winter – but what does the data say?

Update Feb 9 2020: Weather Underground retired their free API in 2018 so the code in this post no longer works

A reminder that when idle queries pop into your head, the answer can often be found using R + online data. And a brief excursion into accessing the Weather Underground.

One interesting aspect of Australian life, even in coastal urban areas like Sydney, is that sometimes it just stops raining. For weeks or months at a time. The realisation hits slowly: at some point you look around at the yellow-brown lawns, ovals and “nature strips” and say “gee, I don’t remember the last time it rained.”

Thankfully in our data-rich world, it’s relatively easy to find out whether the dry spell is really as long as it feels. In Australia, meteorological data is readily available via the Bureau of Meteorology (known as BoM). Another source is the Weather Underground (WU), which has the benefit that there may be data from a personal weather station much closer to you than the BoM stations.

Here’s how you can access WU data using R and see whether your fuzzy recollection is matched by reality.
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