Pity your local weather forecaster. Rarely praised when correct, often vilified when wrong, weather forecasting is one of the most thankless jobs around.
There’s at least one company that hopes to change all of that. Cumulonimbus Software, a Canadian company led by Jacob Sheehy and Phil Jones, has teamed up with Cliff Mass, a University of Washington atmospheric scientist, to create an app called PressureNet. Designed to make use of the barometer that is already installed in newer Android devices, the goal is to create a high resolution weather data set.
“Our mission is to dramatically improve weather and climate forecasting,” notes the PressureNet website. “We’re using new software tools and taking advantage of the ubiquity of connected atmosphere sensors to build the highest-resolution data collection system for the Earth.”
Very roughly speaking, low-pressure systems are associated with clouds and precipitation and high-pressure systems are associated with dryer weather and clear skies. Pressure measurements are a critical part of the meteorologist’s toolbox for shorter term forecasts, but currently, forecasts are based on relatively few measuring stations, mostly located in urban areas.
“I believe that one of the biggest revolutions in weather forecasting is literally in your hands: your smartphone,” says Cliff Mass. “Intended to provide elevation information for a variety of apps, these [atmospheric pressure sensors], if collected and quality controlled could provide thousands, if not millions, of pressure observations each day across the nation.”
To contribute to the project, you must have an Android device that comes with a barometer installed. Currently, this includes the Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy S3, Galaxy Note, Galaxy Note II, Nexus 4, Nexus 10 and Xoom. Then you must install the free PressureNet app, located at Google Play.
Users of the PressureNet system can currently see their raw data and that of regions’ graphed over time. When enough sensors are set to report back to PressureNet, the company plans to provide highly accurate local weather forecasting back to users for a fee.