If you are a stormchaser or just someone who loves the theatre of wind, lightning, heavy rain and hail when a storm whips through, then you are perfectly placed to help climate science.
Researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and Monash University School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment have developed a new app, WeatheX on IOS and Android. WeatheX aims to engage citizen scientists to report and photograph observations of hail, strong winds, tornadoes and flooding.
It’s important research because the very nature of storm events often makes them difficult to precisely forecast and sparse observation networks seldom capture the full picture as they unfold.
“Extreme rainfall events often happen in very localised areas – you can have a downpour in one area and five minutes drive away it is still bone dry – so it’s very hard to get useful observations when recording stations are so far apart,” said one of the researchers behind the WeatheX app, Monash University’s Professor Christian Jakob.
“If citizen scientists can help us fill these gaps, then we can get more detail of these extreme events and potentially improve our understanding of how they develop, which could improve our prediction of severe weather events and their likely impacts.”
Because the app is purely about getting good observations the reporting focus is on the event and not the users of the app. Privacy is paramount. Users remain anonymous with no mobile numbers, names or email addresses required.
The only information the app collates is the location (street names are not included), type of weather event (hail, wind, flood, tornado), descriptions of the event and a photo if one is taken. Any photos have all identifying features such as number plates and faces removed.
All this information is then collated into a database where researchers can view data that shows the movement, development, changes and impacts from any observed storm system as it happens. This data will also be made available to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for their research.
Simply getting these observations from a network of citizen scientists will help climate researchers tackle some of the biggest challenges in the field.
Understanding rainfall remains a difficult area of research. Climate and weather models struggle to reproduce regional rainfall because of the lack of detailed observations to help inform our understanding of cloud physics. It’s one of the reasons why weather forecasters can only predict storms with limited accuracy. But with citizen scientists this could change.
“If enough people download the app and start sending in their observations, then this project could provide a quantum leap forward in documenting and understanding extreme events in Australia,” said fellow WeatheX researcher from Monash university Dr Joshua Soderholm.
“This can actually have profound impacts on understanding the science of storm. And if you’re a stormchaser, your observations could improve storm forecasts, meaning your chances of capturing photos of extraordinary storm events can only improve.
You can find out more about WeatheX and download it from this page.
Dr Joshua Soderholm
Mobile: +61 403 800 655
Prof Christian Jakob
Phone: +61 3 9905 4461. Mobile: +61 431 286 955