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How Big Data Is Changing Weather Forecasting

Apr. 22, 2016 ⋅ Categories: Big Data

Checking the weather forecast has never been simpler. All most people have to do is open an application on their phones, and they have the high and low temperatures, chance of precipitation and humidity level – all for the next week or so. Better yet, these predictions are able to change in real time.

Weather data isn’t just important for the average person though. In fact, weather data is fairly valuable. Recently, IBM acquired The Weather Company to provide data for other companies looking for more information about the weather.

Writing for Informationweek, Cray’s Senior Director of Business Development Per Nyberg explained that weather forecasts benefit organizations ranging from retailers to government agencies. According to climate data company Weather Analytics, the weather affects more than 33 percent of the global GDP. For this reason, accurate forecasting has become an important task powered by big data analytics.

How Big Data and Weather Forecasting Can Save Millions
In the face of budgetary setbacks for the National Weather Service in 2013, companies have since stepped up to continue the improvement of weather forecasting. For instance, defense technology manufacturer Raytheon has partnered with NOAA and NASA on the Joint Polar Satellite Mission, which is scheduled for launch in 2017.

According to the official project site, the satellite will “gather global measurements of atmospheric, terrestrial and oceanic conditions.” With this information, it will be able to forecast certain weather phenomena “days in advance,” as well as assess hazards like forest fires and pollution.

“Ten weather-related disasters in 2015 resulted in $1 billion in losses.”

By improving the accuracy and immediacy of weather forecasting, these organizations aren’t just offering businesses an opportunity to adjust their plans accordingly – they’re helping governments save millions.

Bill Sullivan, Raytheon’s program director for JPSS, told Forbes that better prediction abilities for severe weather, like hurricanes, can help locate the right evacuation zones. Each mile of evacuated shoreline, he said, costs around $1 million. According to NOAA, 10 weather-related disasters in 2015 resulted in $1 billion in losses each across the U.S.

For the data to be useful in averting these losses, Raytheon processes it using the JPSS Common Ground System. By using several domestic and international satellites, the system is able to collect around 60 GB of data from all over the world in just four hours, according to Sullivan. This information is then sent to the National Weather Service for forecasting.

How It Can Benefit the Environment
On an arguably smaller level, data-driven weather technology is making an impact in the farming industry as well. In 2014, researchers from the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the University of Georgia and IBM teamed up to create the tools to look at weather with more precision. The idea was that this technology would help farmers make smarter choices about irrigation, harvesting, fertilizer and seeding, ultimately conserving more water and other resources.

“With data and data-driven solutions, we are looking at the next generation of agriculture,” David Reckford, the director of the Flint River Partnership project told ComputerWorld. “We are beginning to apply a level of science to the system that will allow us to grow more with less.”

Though farming contributes a great deal to the economy, especially in Georgia, the goal isn’t just an economic one – it’s also ecological. According to the USDA, the farming industry is responsible for about 80 percent of water usage in U.S. The technology in development from the University of Georgia will allow farmers to more accurately determine times to turn off sprinkler nozzles in areas that don’t need the irrigation. According to IBM, this could increase efficiency up to 20 percent.

So, the next time you open your phone to see what kind of outfit is appropriate for the day, you should appreciate how far big data has brought weather forecasting technology. Not just for the simple everyday conveniences, but for the life-changing innovations saving money and critical resources.

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