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Smartphones and Storms

Smartphones and Storms

Your smartphone might be able to improve weather forecasts.

Smartphones and Storms

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 - 19:15

Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(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.

Get Inside the Science

Smartphones, Tablets Help UW Researchers Improve Storm Forecasts

Cumulonimbus - presureNet

Cliff Mass, University of Washington

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Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.