ClimaCell: Saving Lives Through Weather Forecasting

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SEATTLE — When MIT and Harvard students Rei Goffer, Itai Zlotnik and Shimon Elkabetz founded ClimaCell in 2015, they revolutionized the world of weather technology — without inventing something new. Instead, the company uses mobile phone and wifi signals in concert with existing radar and weather satellites to map weather conditions. Every signal sent by a cell phone is affected by precipitation, and ClimaCell software translates these disruptions into minute-by-minute weather data.
“A lot of the things around us actually sense the weather, just not by design,” explained co-founder Goffer. “They’re affected by the weather, and by looking at how they’re affected you can actually reverse engineer things and see through that,” he continued. For countries with few weather stations and radars, ClimaCell could save thousands of lives every year with its inexpensive, cutting-edge weather forecasting software.

Mapping Every Mile on Earth

Even the most sophisticated weather technology has limitations. Radars monitor weather occurring half a mile to three miles high in the sky, missing ground-level weather; satellites offer great coverage but cannot detect weather under cloud layers while weather stations only provide data for small areas. With only 940 weather radars worldwide, many countries lack even rudimentary weather data.

But by using the communication signals between already existent technology, ClimaCell has begun to fill in these huge data gaps while providing even more precise forecasting. Every phone, every wifi-connected device can be transformed into a weather sensor because the speed and clarity of each signal are directly affected by local conditions. ClimaCell software can monitor weather conditions down to one side of a city street; combine this new mass of data with radar and satellite reports, and every square mile of the earth can be monitored and mapped.

Revolutionizing Weather Forecasting in India

The possibilities of such comprehensive and precise weather forecasting are exciting. Airline companies like Delta and Jetblue have already invested in ClimaCell’s Hypercast software, along with transportation and construction companies like Via and NESCO.

The most radical transformation, however, is expected to take place in developing countries. More often than not, the countries that would benefit most from comprehensive weather forecasting are the least likely to have it. In the last 20 years, flash floods and other extreme weather events have killed more than 500,000 people; of the 10 countries hit hardest by these events, nine were in the developing world.

Part of ClimaCell’s central mission is to partner with developing countries. As co-founder Elkabetz explains, “Developing countries like India don’t have sufficient weather infrastructure, like radar and weather stations, to ensure public safety and serve the private sector. Our technology helps countries leapfrog from no weather data to granular data using software.”

ClimaCell has recently partnered with Tata Trusts, one of India’s oldest philanthropic organizations, along with some of India’s largest companies. Together they are working to transform India’s early warning flood systems and jumpstart the country’s Rural Uplift Programme. This is just the beginning of ClimaCell’s not-for-profit ventures. With India as a model, the company plans to roll out into more developing countries every year.

Software For An Uncertain Future

ClimaCell has the capability to provide precise weather monitoring for every country in the world. Though the world’s climate is warming and extreme weather events are becoming more common, new micro weather software can make events like flash floods more predictable and less fatal.

For farmers in India and other developing countries, precise weather data can also make a world of difference, guaranteeing more food and economic security. Weather invariably affects every aspect of our lives, and companies like ClimaCell are helping individuals, businesses, and nations become more resilient with every phone signal sent.

– Kate McIntosh
Photo: Flickr

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