Crowdsourcing Mother Nature

Social media users provide weather updates in real time.

By Albert Aydin on July 24, 2013

Social media sites Reddit, Facebook and Twitter have shown recently they can provide breaking news more quickly than traditional news outlets in certain circumstances. Now, the power of citizen journalists is being harnessed to report the ultimate in breaking news: the weather.

Weather changes in a heartbeat, but through crowdsourcing, weather watchers receive up-to-the-minute updates on conditions. Even on-air meteorologists now rely on real-time eyewitness video and photographs submitted by viewers via social media to confirm their forecasts. The importance of using social media in tracking the path and severity of a storm led the Weather Channel to introduce a new naming system for winter storms. 

Earlier this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration introduced the mPING app, which allows viewers to log precipitation in their area using smartphones. These observations are added to a national database that is accessible to everyone from TV reporters to average citizens. This database serves as an important tool for scientists to compare what was predicted with what actually occurred in order to develop more accurate forecasting technologies

Crowdsourced data is also leading to a new generation of apps that provide the most up-to-date weather forecasts. The Yahoo Weather app uses user-submitted images from Flickr’s “Project Weather” to provide a visual representation of the weather conditions in any given location. Advanced radar technology, supplemented by user observations, is used by the SkyMotion app to track precipitation across North America down to the minute.

Knowing what the weather has in store is essential whether it reminds us to bring an umbrella or decide to evacuate. Crowdsourcing weather data through mobile technology helps create a more accurate picture of weather conditions.