(Inside Science TV) -- They help us stay connected, but could your smartphone also help weather forecasters predict a coming storm?
New research suggests that cell phones carried around in pockets and purses could be used by meteorologists to improve weather forecasts.
"We could potentially have 100 or 1,000 times more surface reports than we're getting today," said Cliff Mass, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Many cellphone models already contain sensors that measure atmospheric pressure. Low-pressure systems are usually associated with bad weather and big storms.
"Pressure is perhaps the most valuable type of information at the surface," said Mass.
By using cellphones to track atmospheric pressure readings and changes, forecasters could pinpoint where and when a major storm will strike. This could help people better prepare for and protect themselves against a coming storm.
"We're talking about being able to, an hour or three hours ahead of time, being able to forecast where a major thunderstorm is going to develop," Mass said.
Smartphone users can download an app called pressureNet, currently for the Android operating system. Every hour, weather information is uploaded from phones around the country. Researchers hope to share the information with other weather forecasting centers -- such as the National Weather Service.
"The potential is to have tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of pressure observations around the world, each hour, from these smartphones," said Mass.
Early research shows it could be a successful tool with more users.
"What we've found is that we can improve forecasts by using these observations," Mass said.