mPING: Crowdsourcing Weather Reports Into the Future (Credit: National Severe Storms Laboratory & NWS Chicago)
DISCUSSION: Middle Spring time – a time of the year in which storms become more prominent. With the growth of smartphone use in everyday life, the enhanced ability to report ongoing weather phenomena continues to provide more power to citizens and meteorologists alike. The Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground (mPING) network, served up by the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Oklahoma, allows for people to report ongoing precipitation based on the type of precipitation that is falling. A network such as mPING brings together citizens, forecasters, and researchers alike in that much more can be collected about the instantaneous outdoor environment when precipitation is occurring. Reports can arrive to explain different types of precipitation, but the common goal of a network such as mPING is to bring together crowdsourcing of meteorological phenomena to best improve coverage of observations alongside other precipitation detection platforms.
To understand why a network of weather observation reporting such as mPING is essential, it is important to examine the supplementary benefits it can provide along with other types of observations. Most commonly, doppler radars are used to detect hydrometeors like rain, snow, hail, and graupel at various different angles in the atmosphere ranging from 0.5 to 19.5 degrees above the ground reference. Recent advancements to radar technologies such as dual-polarization gives forecasters plenty more information into the horizontal and vertical size and shape of hydrometeors. However, radars cannot detect surface-level hydrometeors and do not always provide a clear and obvious picture as to whether or not precipitation is actually occurring and if so, what type of precipitation is occurring. This is where storm reports and observations play a role in closing the gap between what is observed on radar and what is actually happening on the ground. This is especially helpful for meteorologists in forecast centers where in many cases, there are no windows to the outside, and thus need to rely on external spotters and common folk to report ongoing precipitation.
So how do the reports impact researchers and forecasters? The answer lies in the form of verification of the data. Forecasters and researchers can utilize the data coming into the mPING servers and verify against the observations in order to improve data quality and reliability. In addition, observations near the ground can help to enhance weather forecast models such that observations can give forecasters an insight into whether or not a forecast was good or bad, as well as any improvements that can be made to ensure improved forecast skill. Improved forecast skill is always a plus as it gives forecasters more certainty in predicting future precipitation. Ultimately, the mPING network empowers the everyday citizen to make a difference with each report.
More information on mPING can be found at the NSSL website here.
To learn more about other interesting weather observation topics from around the world, click here!
© 2019 Meteorologist Brian Matilla