Don’t Just Watch the Weather Forecast. Do Something About It! All You Need Is Five Seconds and This New App from NOAA.

February 8, 2013 | 4:44 pm
Brenda Ekwurzel
Senior Climate Scientist, Director of Climate Science

I took five seconds this morning to help scientists monitor the potentially historic winter storm that is hitting the Northeast today. That’s all the time it took to verify the form of precipitation falling around me with a new free application for mobile phones called mPING, which is available for both Apple and Android devices. 

The project is called Precipitation Identification Near the Ground or PING. As today’s winter storm batters the Northeast, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic region, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory (in partnership with the University of Oklahoma) would welcome your help on the ground.

Ever remarked that the snow or rain forecast is slightly off target? Now you can help!

Typically we can count on our daily weather forecast to give a highly accurate high temperature and low temperature for the day. We usually never hear the meteorologist say “we have a 90 percent chance for the high to be 43 degrees today.” Rather, that extra designation on the television or website or mobile device is reserved for the precipitation portion of the forecast. “We have a 65 percent chance of freezing rain today.” That is the signal of how much confidence the weather forecasters have in the one day, two day, or five day precipitation outcome.

The mismatch between the radar and other weather sensors and the experience on the ground is exactly what this research project addresses. What better “weather sensors” on the ground than you and I out there experiencing it in real time. Watch the one minute video to see how.

Most fun feature: Hail reporting

Example entry for Hail in the mPING app from NOAA

Screen capture off of my mobile phone showing the screen that appears after you enter “hail” as the precipitation choice in the mPING app. The slider bar can be moved to enter the size of the hail using inches.

I still remember vividly a colleague running over to ask for my help to collect hail samples that were hitting the ground and rapidly melting. We scurried around to collect samples into bottles that were later fed into the nearby mass spectrometer that measured stable isotopes of the hydrogen and oxygen elements that form water.  It was one of the more fun interruptions in a day that I have experienced.

If you also happen to experience hail, it is worth taking more than five seconds to pick up a piece and dig out a handy ruler and measure it. Or if you do not have a ruler handy there are other applications for such tools for mobile devices to help out in a pinch. Simply enter the size of the hail into the mPING application.  Hail happens to be a very costly insurance loss in the United States and better predicting its occurrence might help all of us.

Citizen science helps us contribute to a more “Weather-Ready Nation”

I encourage anyone who wants to become a citizen scientist and help build a better, as NOAA puts it, “Weather-Ready Nation” and download this app if you have a mobile device. I will go outside now to monitor the winter storm now in my region and enter that latest observation into mPING.

Please join the growing band of mPING observers who take a quick break to help other researchers who are making a difference in our daily lives!

About the author

More from Brenda

Brenda Ekwurzel ensures that program analyses reflect robust and relevant climate science, and researches the influence of major carbon producers on rising global average temperatures and sea level. Dr. Ekwurzel is a co-author of the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Volume II. She presents frequently to a range of audiences on climate science, educating the public on practical, achievable solutions for climate change.