Your smartphone could turn you into a weather station

Feb 8, 2013

  [Feb. 11th Update -- Audio problem fixed]

While the Northeast struggles with a massive snowstorm, the same forces are keeping it mild on the West Coast, says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass, a professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

What are those forces? High pressure and low pressure. Okay, it's more complicated than that, but there is a high pressure "ridge" over the west, which forces a "trough" toward the east.

And, you could help weather forecasters make sense of what's happening with those ridges and troughs--and help produce more accurate, timely forecasts.

Certain of the latest Android smartphones include a pressure sensor inside them, and if you combine that air-pressure info with GPS info, you've suddenly got thousands of new weather stations.

"Why am I so excited about these observations?  Because surface pressure is a uniquely valuable surface observation since it reflects the atmosphere above (surface pressure reflects the weight of the air above the sensor)," Mass writes on his blog.

A new app for those phones, PressureNet3, which Mass helped develop with a tech startup named Cumulonimbus, Inc., sends the data to a secure storehouse. The research team at the U.W.  is working on using the data to create better forecasts.

"We will test our new capabilities on a range of examples, including Midwest convection (thunderstorms) and Pacific Northwest features (like the pesky convergence zone)," Mass writes.

For this week's complete forecast, click the "listen" button above.


The weekly KPLU feature "Weather with Cliff Mass" airs every Friday at 9 a.m. immediately following BirdNote, and repeats twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KPLU’s Science and Health reporter Keith Seinfeld. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to a podcast of “Weather with Cliff Mass” shows.