Scientists crowdsource atmospheric data from smartphones to improve weather forecasts

Meteorologists may become better at their jobs thanks to your smartphone.

Atmospheric scientists at the University of Washington are collecting data from people using PressureNet, a free app that works on certain Android devices.

Pressure sensors installed on those devices can estimate the phone’s elevation and location, but scientists can also take advantage of those sensors to measure the amount of atmospheric pressure. Those measurements provide more precise information about pressure changes and readings, which in turn can help better predict storms.

Cliff Mass, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences, has been working with Canadian-app company Cumulonimbus to develop PressureNet. As Mass details in his blog, the UW is now acquiring the data every hour and plotting the location of the smarphone pressure observations hourly.

Cliff Mass.

“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,” Mass said in a press release.

Mass will spend the next few months aggregating data and then comparing the smartphone data results to traditional forecasts to see if there are real differences. The project is funded by Microsoft and the National Weather Service.

These are the devices that have pressure sensors: 

  • Galaxy Nexus
  • Galaxy S3
  • Galaxy Note
  • Galaxy Note II
  • Nexus 4
  • Nexus 10
  • Xoom