by Olive Huang | February 16, 2014 | Comments Off on Australian Farmers Praying for Rain, and in Need of a Better Weather App
This winter (summer in Australia) the earth got a little bit crazy. Snow storms in the U.S., Flood in UK and where I live, a rural town 400 KM north east of Sydney, we are under the attack of the worst drought in 60 years.
Before moving to the country I have never paid enough attention to the weather. Sunny days are great, rainy days are lousy, snows are beautiful until you have to drive to the other side of the city. Being a city slicker weather forecast is only relevant when I think about washing my car.
The importance of weather forecast is very different in a country life. For example, this spring we were considering fertilizing some of the large paddocks on our farm which have been neglected by the previous owner for many years. Here we are talking about hiring a plane and spread tons of fertilizer on the ground. You need to do it precisely 2-3 days before a good rain, otherwise without water it will be a waste of time and (a lot of!) money. So I started searching for a good weather app which can tell me exactly when it is going to rain on our farm. I tried a few apps such as Weatherzone, WillyWeather, all of them receiving periodical prediction from Australia Bureau of Meteorology, all of them are good for a city life but not good enough for a farmer. Where I live the weather pattern is so volatile I could have pouring rain in front of the house and sunshine on the backyard. The closest monitoring point from Australia Bureau of Meteorology is 35 kilometers away. We joke about it that these weather forecasts must have come from the state department of health with the aim to give people hope and keep farmers away from depression.
I did some more researches on weather forecast accuracy and realized this is the field many countries are experimenting crowdsourcing and big data analytics. mPing, a research app from University of Oklahoma in the US, allows the app users to submit real time weather reports on their location from their smartphone. Another example is from UK. Developers on the site OpenSignal.com came up with the idea after discovering that the temperature of mobile phone batteries in one area, when averaged out, almost exactly tallied with the outside air temperature. They then developed the app called WeatherSignal, which uses functions already present in Android phones to monitor light, magnetism, pressure and other conditions in order to build up a real-time weather map.
I do believe this is the direction of the next generation of weather forecast. When hundreds and thousands of people and devices in a region are able to send back real time weather report using very simple, convenient, non-intrusive methods, we would have a picture of the weather of unprecedented detail.
Eventually we didn’t apply the fertilizer on our paddocks this year as the rain never came. The region has since sank into the terrible drought where dams and creeks went dry, cattles losing shape, farmers selling off their stocks and many are on the fringe of going broke. My weather app says there is hope of good rainfall in the coming week and today a 90% chance of 5-10mm rain. So since this morning I was constantly looking at the cloud gathered sky, like many of my dear country neighbours, waiting for the rain, anxiously.
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