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How The Weather Company tracks storms like Hurricane Florence using predictive modeling


As Hurricane Florence bears down on the East Coast, its intensity is coming into sharp relief. The Category 2 hurricane had sustained winds of 105 miles per hour at the time of writing, with tropical storm-force winds stretching more than 335 square miles in all directions. Rainfall was predicted to reach 40 inches in regions of coastal Carolina, and Wilmington — which just had its rainiest year to date — might get eight months worth of rain in three days. One firm closely tracking Florences progress is The Weather Company, the weather forecasting division of IBM whose consumer-facing brands include the weather.com, intellicast.com, and Weather Underground. Its systems analyze more than 100 terabytes of third-party data and generate 25 billion customized regional models daily. Our models provide a forecast evolution of what the atmosphere is going to look like in the coming days, Dr. James Belanger, a senior meteorological scientist for The Weather Company, told VentureBeat in an interview. The system keeps in memory what the forecasts are all across the globe. One of the predictive technologies its data scientists tap is Deep Thunder, an IBM research project spun out of the companys Deep Computing initiative. Leveraging public satellite imagery, proprietary datasets, and sensors — including more than 250,000 personal weather stations and smartphone barometer readings — its able to produce short-term, hyperlocal weather forecasts for local governments and corporate clients alike. In a pilot in Rio de Janeiro, Deep Thunder predicted floods and anticipated where storms might trigger mudslides. And in the U.S., it enabled a utility company to pinpoint where storms were likely to bring down power lines. Its capable of even greater precision, Belanger explained. Using historical weather data, it can create probability distributions by modeling synthetic storms (think a computer-generated tropical cyclone.) And later this year, itll be used to issue probabilistic snowfall reports seven days in advance. Another tool in The Weather Companys arsenal are forecast runs from government agencies like the National Weather Service, which are typically released 10-15 days in advance of shifting weather patterns.  Theyre ingested and run through adaptive regression models — statistical models that automatically plot interactions between variables  — that apply weight and bias corrections for any given target location. Its a really scalable system, Belanger said. The calibration information is continually updated … Were able to distribute temperature and precipitation forecasts for anywhere in the globe. So hows The Weather Data use that backend to track high-profile storms like Florence? While it defers to the National Weather Service on forecasted storm impacts — going so far as to impose what Belanger calls guardrails and adjustments that ensure its messaging remains in alignment — its consumer team employs analytics to identify the best times to issue alerts. They look at the times of day when consumers are most actively engaging our content, Belanger said, and make sure to keep people informed of rainfall and flood threats. Its an important way we deliver messages and communications to people who are the most vulnerable.

This terrifying graphic from The Weather Channel shows the power and danger of Hurricane Florence


A new video from The Weather Channel shows in real time the danger of flood waters already rising in parts of the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence starts battering the coast. The storm is moving slowly and is anticipated to bring deadly storm surges to the region as well as torrential rains. Thats a recipe for a flooding disaster, meteorologist Marshall Shepherd told The Verge in an interview on Monday. The National Hurricane Center is predicting storm surges anywhere from two to more than 11 feet high. But its hard to visualize what those numbers actually mean for someone near the water. The National Hurricane Center tried to make it clear with a cartoon graphic that shows rainbow colored water levels rising over the heads of a family in a house. You'll be seeing the NHC potential storm surge flooding graphic a lot over the next few days as #Florence nears the coast. Here's how to interpret it; The graphic is more effective than numbers, or even maps. But The Weather Channel takes the visuals a step further using mixed reality that show the waters surrounding the on-screen meteorologists, including Greg Postel and Ericka Navarro. The flood rises above their heads as the wind howls and floating cars slosh at the surface. This @weatherchannel visualization of storm surge is an amazing and sobering use of technology to show what hurricanes like Florence can do The mixed reality graphics, created in partnership with augmented reality company The Future Group, harness the Unreal Engine — a popular video game development platform. Rather than creating effects and rendering them in post-production, the process used to create visuals for most films, the Unreal Engine builds effects in real time, Ren LaForme reported for Poynter when The Weather Channel unveiled the tech in a tornado demo. The Weather Channel has since used the immersive reality for an in-studio lightning explainer, and now, to visualize Hurricane Florences floods. The business that were in is safety, Michael Potts, The Weather Channels vice president of design, told The Verge in an interview. The weather is a visceral, physical thing, and were trying to recreate that in the most realistic way possible. On screen, the water towers over the meteorologist as fish swim by — adding emphasis to her words that Hurricane Florences floods will threaten lives. If you find yourself here, please get out, she says. If youre told to go, you need to go.