A weather tech startup wants to do forecasts based on cell phone signals

Douglas Heaven at MIT Technology Review: “On 14 April more snow fell on Chicago than it had in nearly 40 years. Weather services didn’t see it coming: they forecast one or two inches at worst. But when the late winter snowstorm came it caused widespread disruption, dumping enough snow that airlines had to cancel more than 700 flights across all of the city’s airports.

One airline did better than most, however. Instead of relying on the usual weather forecasts, it listened to ClimaCell – a Boston-based “weather tech” start-up that claims it can predict the weather more accurately than anyone else. According to the company, its correct forecast of the severity of the coming snowstorm allowed the airline to better manage its schedules and minimize losses due to delays and diversions. 

Founded in 2015, ClimaCell has spent the last few years developing the technology and business relationships that allow it to tap into millions of signals from cell phones and other wireless devices around the world. It uses the quality of these signals as a proxy for local weather conditions, such as precipitation and air quality. It also analyzes images from street cameras. It is offering a weather forecasting service to subscribers that it claims is 60 percent more accurate than that of existing providers, such as NOAA.

The internet of weather

The approach makes sense, in principle. Other forecasters use proxies, such as radar signals. But by using information from millions of everyday wireless devices, ClimaCell claims it has a far more fine-grained view of most of the globe than other forecasters get from the existing network of weather sensors, which range from ground-based devices to satellites. (ClimaCell also taps into these, too.)…(More)”.