The Atlantic hurricane season begins June 1. This year could be the most active in four years, with 14 named storms, eight hurricanes and three major hurricanes forecast during the coming season, according to The Weather Company, an IBM Business.
We’re a country used to Mother Nature showing us a wide variety of severe weather. In April alone, we had 52 tornadoes in 12 states and record flooding in Texas with nearly 18 inches of rain at rates as high as three inches an hour. And that’s not mentioning persistent drought and late season freezes.
We also know businesses lose more than $500 billion because of weather-related issues in the United States alone each year. Every industry — from automotive, aviation, insurance, healthcare, energy, agriculture and retail — is inevitably and at times profoundly affected by weather.
We can’t stop severe weather from occurring, but we can reduce the losses due to adverse weather. To do this, the weather community must be an active participant in solving problems. We must move beyond weather forecasting to forecasting the impacts of weather and where possible, identifying actions to mitigate losses.
At The Weather Company, we’ve been on this path for years but I’m excited about two promising innovations that will propel us forward: an explosion of Internet-connected devices — referred to as “The Internet of Things” — and the emergence of advanced cognitive computing. By combining them, these advances will both increase our skills in forecasting and allow us to transform forecasts into actionable information needed by people and businesses.
The Internet of Things (IoT). Many of these new IOT devices directly measure or provide information that can be used to infer environmental conditions. Data from wearable devices, telematics in cars, smart buildings, smartphones, and even social media posts allows us to have a much more accurate picture of the weather and thus improve our ability to forecast it. We’ll have literally billions more weather observations a day as a result!
The value of this data grows when you create a two-way exchange with the device or, as often the case, with the individual. For example, at The Weather Company, we collect atmospheric pressure data from tens of thousands of cell phones in order to bring customers an enhanced, personalized weather forecast, instantaneously enabled by the cloud. Even more value is unlocked when we combine that weather data with other information to produce actionable information.
For example, we can estimate the additional amount of fuel a plane will need because of weather-induced congestion at the arrival airport. Or, when you combine personal health information with the air stagnation forecast you can generate a tailored asthma alert for a child. Delivering this kind of information about the impacts of the weather will improve decision making across society.
Cognitive Computing. We are marrying atmospheric science and computer science in entirely new ways. IBM Watson has moved beyond machine learning, and we’ll be using it to better understand and eventually model the atmosphere. For example, to improve our forecasts for two weeks and beyond, cognitive computing could assimilate all of the background knowledge and then look at reams of historical and current data to help us pick out predictive patterns we haven’t recognized with traditional approaches.
While hurricanes will continue to make landfall in the U.S., we can be working now to mitigate the losses. FEMA and NOAA/National Weather Service provide great resources for preparedness and real-time emergency information. And, with the technologies described above, individuals, businesses and communities will be better able to understand, plan for and to the extent possible, mitigate possible disruptions to operations. As part of the weather community, we’re excited to leverage these and other emerging technologies to keep people safe and help communities and businesses prosper.
Mary M. Glackin is Head of Science & Forecast Operations and Senior Vice President for Public-Private Partnerships at The Weather Company, an IBM Business. She is a former U.S. Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA.
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