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How weather apps are trying to be more accurate

  • by Suzanne Bearne
  • Technology reporter

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As climate change makes weather more unpredictable, weather apps are using more technology to try to keep up

Traveling around the world by bike for two years might be too much of a challenge for most of us, but Zoe Ashbridge has found a way to make cycling a little easier.

She and her partner and companion Stewart use an app called Windy to track wind direction.

“We use it every day,” says Zoe, a 33-year-old from Shropshire who is taking a break from her career. “It helps us save time and energy.

“Our bikes weigh about 30 to 40kg and if we ride against the wind we can hurt our knees. That helps prevent all that. Why spend two hours cycling when it’s the other day?” It only takes 30 minutes?”

Weather apps are continuing to become more detailed and individual than ever as technology and artificial intelligence continue to advance. It means more real-time updates and more personalized recommendations.

image source, Zoe Ashbridge

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Zoe Ashbridge and her partner Stewart use a weather app to avoid cycling in headwinds

“Forecast models have become more accurate… and that is certainly due to advances in technology,” said Steven Smith, chief executive of US-based Accuweather. His business has been forecasting weather since 1962, when his first customer was a natural gas company that wanted to be able to better plan for winter demand.

“The ultimate goal is to help save lives and protect property, in any way that helps people make the best decisions about weather impacts, such as ‘do I need an umbrella, do I need to leave? go soon?'”

At the UK Met Office, one of the biggest technological developments over the past year has been the improvement of digital weather maps and the data they put on them.

“You can see where the weather is moving in real time and where it is heading towards you,” said Sophie Yeomans-Smith, product manager at the Met Office app. “If there’s a heavy rain, you can look at the live rain forecast and see how it’s going to play out.

“We’ve improved the technology that underpins it all and changed server providers to help us improve. It used to be one day until it would show up, now it’s five days.”

In an effort to tailor its products further, the Met Office has launched dedicated beach and mountain forecasts. “With the beach forecast, it tells you how windy it is, what the waves are going to be like… and we’ve teamed up with the RNLI [the Royal National Lifeboat Institution] up there,” Ms. Yeomans-Smith said.

“Data about mountains tells things like what the weather will be like at the top of the mountain and on the ground.”

image source, Sophie Yeomans-Smith

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Sophie Yeomans-Smith said the Met Office now provides the public with more real-time data

Meanwhile, the Met Office announced in August that it had partnered with Scottish airline Loganair to further enhance forecast accuracy. Sensors fitted to Loganair aircraft will monitor environmental conditions around the aircraft throughout the flight.

The data is said to help the Met Office better predict severe weather and pinpoint localized thunderstorms and fog.

Eric Floehr is the founder of WeatherWatch, a US company that analyzes and collates the performance of weather providers, including measures of accuracy. He said forecasters are continuing to pay more attention to communicating as quickly as possible, as climate change makes weather patterns more changeable.

“Technological improvements have led to improvements in forecasts, they are more accurate and reliable. Today, people are using them multiple times a day, there are many real-time weather forecast applications Better yet, consider creating alerts for the next few minutes and hours.

“[Yet], it is more difficult for forecasters to identify severe weather because it occurs rarely, but there is more interest and attention to ‘how do we predict severe weather better?’. However, I think startup capital is lacking in this field.”

He attributes the lack of financial support for such new weather app companies ironically to the weather. More specifically – because the Silicon Valley region of northern California, where many tech investors are located, does not typically suffer from extreme climate events.

“It’s worth noting that Silicon Valley doesn’t have one [changeable] weather, which means venture capitalists don’t think about investing in it,” he said.

The New Tech Economy is a series that explores how technological innovation is set to shape the emerging economic landscape.

Back at Accuweather, Mr. Smith said they began building an artificial intelligence (AI) database in the late 1980s to help predict weather patterns. It also now uses AI to automatically translate its reports into different languages.

“We have a global audience in over 100 languages ​​and dialects, so all these different products have to be translated into many different languages ​​that users can use,” he said. “The newest way to use AI is to create language and put phrases together, which can be very detailed. It could be related to flooding if travel could be an issue.”

Mr. Smith added that Accuweather is also investing more in ensuring users are informed about severe weather and air quality.

“A lot of what we’re doing is continuing to focus on health and safety,” Mr. Smith said. “More and more people are concerned about air quality, such as the impact of going out jogging. We can predict what air pollution will be like, what the level of pollution will be like.” any.” [ground level] So will ozone and other irritants.”

He also said that if a wildfire occurs, the company can predict smoke direction, severity and temperature. “It’s about increasing alerts and visualization.”

Returning to Zoe Ashbridge and her global cycling journey, she said she has now used the Windy app in 27 countries. “If I see a cyclist struggling with the wind, I’ll tell them about it.”


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