How your smartphone will improve storm forecasts

A technology used to make devices easier to locate are helping researchers predict storms with more accuracy.

Samsung and Motorola recently equipped new Android smartphones and tablets with pressure sensors to help better locate the devices. But scientists are taking avantage of the addition and using the data the phones can gather to improve weather forecasting.

Researchers at the University of Washington developed the PressureNet app for Samsung's Galaxy S III, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note and Nexus 4 smartphones and the Nexus 10 and Motorola Xoom tablets. The app measures atmospheric pressure and sends the data to the researchers.

"With this approach we could potentially have tens or hundreds of thousands of additional surface pressure observations, which could significantly improve short-term weather forecasts," said Cliff Mass, a University of Washington professor of atmospheric sciences, in a news release.

Currently, the app is collecting about 4,000 observations per hour, mostly in the northeastern United States and in big cities. Of course, the more data the app collects the more accurate the forecast.

"Thunderstorms are one of the areas of weakest skill for forecasting," Mass said. "I think thunderstorms in the middle part of the [United States] could potentially be the biggest positive for this approach. They are relatively small-scale, they develop over a few hours, they can be severe and can affect people significantly. I think this could be one of the next major revolutions in weather forecasting, really enhancing our ability to forecast at zero to four hours."

University of Washington grad students are building a weather-forecasting system that they hope will be ready to use the smartphone data points by this summer.

Photo: Flickr/Nick / KC7CBF

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