Internet Enabled Consumer Devices

Smartphone App Can Be Used to Predict Major Weather Events

23 August 2018

Smartphones could be used to predict major weather events.Smartphones could be used to predict major weather events.

A study from Tel Aviv University (TAU) has found that smartphone data and apps can be used to predict weather patterns. The researchers focused on weather patterns that lead to flash floods for the study.

"The sensors in our smartphones are constantly monitoring our environment, including gravity, the earth's magnetic field, atmospheric pressure, light levels, humidity, temperatures, sound levels and more," said Professor Colin Price of TAU's Porter School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, who led the research. "Vital atmospheric data exists today on some 3 to 4 billion smartphones worldwide. This data can improve our ability to accurately forecast the weather and other natural disasters that are taking so many lives every year."

Smartphones have sensors that can measure atmospheric pressure, temperatures and humidity. To test how the sensors can gather weather data, the team placed four smartphones around the TAU campus in controlled conditions and analyzed the data gathered by the phones. The phones gathered information about "atmospheric tides." They also looked at the weather data that was gathered by the app WeatherSignal.

"By 2020, there will be more than six billion smartphones in the world," Price said. "Compare this with the paltry 10,000 official weather stations that exist today. The amount of information we could be used to predict weather patterns, especially those that offer little to no warning, is staggering. In Africa, for example, there are millions of phones but only very basic meteorological infrastructures. Analyzing data from 10 phones may be of little use, but analyzing data on millions of phones would be a game changer. Smartphones are getting cheaper, with better quality and more availability to people around the world."

Smartphones could be used to help create real-time weather predictions through a feedback loop. People could provide atmospheric data to the cloud through an app that are then processed, creating real-time alerts when a weather event is about to happen.

"We're observing a global increase in intense rainfall events and downpours, and some of these cause flash floods," Price said. "The frequency of these intense floods is increasing. We can't prevent these storms from happening, but soon we may be able to use the public's smartphone data to generate better forecasts and give these forecasts back to the public in real time via their phones."

The study was published in the Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics.

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