Tracking storms a few hours out could help people better protect themselves and their property.

Next advance in weather forecasting may not come from a new satellite or supercomputer, but from a device in your pocket.

University of Washington scientists are using pressure sensors on newest smartphones to develop better forecasting techniques.

Android devices equipped with pressure sensors include Galaxy S3, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note and Nexus 4 smartphones.

Among tablets, Nexus 10 and Motorola Xoom make the grade. Thunderstorms are relatively small-scale, develop over a few hours, can be severe and affect people significantly.

Tracking storms a few hours out could help people better protect themselves and their property.

“I think this could be one of the next major revolutions in weather forecasting,” said Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric sciences.

Short-term forecast

‘A weather station in every pocket’ would offer an unprecedented wealth of data.

“We could potentially have tens or hundreds of thousands of additional surface pressure observations. This could significantly improve short-term weather forecasts,” said Mass.

Atmospheric pressure is the weight of the air above, and includes information about what is happening as air masses collide. Precise tracking of pressure readings and pressure changes could help pinpoint exactly where and when a major storm will strike.

This will really enhance ability to forecast at zero to four hours, Mass said.

Select smartphone manufacturers had recently added pressure sensors to estimate its elevation and help pinpoint location.

But here, Mass saw an opportunity to enhance weather prediction.

He approached Cumulonimbus, a Canadian app company that developed PressureNet, a barometer application. This app collects data and shares it back with users.


Mass proposes to use smartphone data to forecast storms and compare their results against traditional forecasts.

If successful, researchers hope to supply it to the US National Weather Service and weather bureaus of other countries.

It could be particularly useful in countries that have little forecasting infrastructure but where smartphones are becoming more common.

(This article was published on February 7, 2013)
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