Accurate weather forecasting improves data accessibility, economics and everyday life.
Do you trust your local weather report? Can you know ahead of time if a predicted rainstorm will flood or merely sprinkle or if a heat wave will last three days or seven?
If your weather data is coming from the Global Weather Corporation, it’s safe to say you can rely on it. The corporation uses some of the most advanced forecasting technologies available, to deliver data on weather elements like daily high and low temperatures in every corner of the globe.
William B. Gail, an electrical engineer, co-founded Global Weather Corporation in 2009 and now serves as its chief technology officer. He helped establish the corporation as a weather wholesaler to provide weather forecast data services to other companies, which then package and deliver the forecasts to businesses and consumers. One such provider is WeatherBug, via its website and mobile app.
Excerpts from an interview.
When and why did you co-found Global Weather Corporation (GWC)?
We formally started GWC in 2009, but only began full operations with paid staff upon receiving external investment in 2012. Our goal was to commercialize the technology developed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which promised to improve on the accuracy of weather forecasts through a technique known as post-processing. In short, this technology replicates what a human meteorologist does, but at fine scales globally, and without the need to ever sleep. Unlike human meteorologists, we can pay as much attention to the accuracy of a forecast for a tiny Ugandan village as for Paris.
Our technology starts with the best model data coming from the world’s meteorological agencies, along with the latest observations. We apply artificial intelligence to decide how much weight to give to each and combine them all to produce a forecast accurate as far ahead as 14 days. By doing this, we can improve on all of the underlying forecast data.
What are the most current trends in weather forecasting in the United States?
Improved weather information quality and better access to it—these are the key trends today. The first trend is driven by companies beginning to understand the financial impacts of weather-related issues associated with their supply chains, consumer sensitivities to weather and other issues. They are learning how accurate weather information can make them money. It is cheaper compared to the cost of not having that information. So, they are demanding rapid progress in accuracy and they are willing to pay for it.
This demand for accuracy influences our entire community, from the basic science through the needed observing systems to today’s sophisticated computer models. The other key trend is the rapidly advancing means for accessing weather information through web and mobile applications. A decade ago, getting good weather information to the people who needed it was challenging. The growth of the Internet and increased penetration of mobile devices have provided us many new ways to get information to people, even in remote parts of the world.
How do consumer demands and private forecasters influence these trends?
Growing demand, both from consumers and from companies, is a key driver today in the field’s rapid progress. Both higher quality and easier access are among the core needs we see. Weather services companies are responding with both. Even small companies have enormous opportunities today, as we see with the proliferation of weather applications for our phones. Innovation is central, with everyone working to meet the growing demand in new ways that set them apart from other players.
What is your view of the weather forecasting scenario in India?
The innovation cycle we have experienced in the U.S. is only now starting in India. The commercial provider community, in particular, is still quite small. In the U.S., we have a healthy balance of three sectors—academia, government and commercial—of approximately equal size. Each sector brings particular strengths and each helps the others innovate. The commercial sector, for example, is best at understanding customer needs and producing services closely matched to each customer. India is still dominated by its government sector, so innovation happens less quickly. This will change over the next decade. It will be exciting to watch or participate.
How do you envision a U.S.-India partnership developing around weather forecasting?
India’s needs are different from the U.S.’s, but many lessons learned within the U.S. are relevant to India. One challenge is establishing mechanisms for trust between the sectors in India and between parties in any U.S.-India partnership. We are working to build a platform to enable such trusted interactions through a new partnership between the American Meteorological Society and the Indian Meteorological Society. Other forms of partnership, such as government-to-government, can complement this as means to share lessons.
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.