Advancing science with your smartphone

The network of Doppler radars used by the National Weather Service is a powerful tool for forecasters. It can detect the intensity of precipitation, the motion of (and in) storms. With the ongoing deployment of dual-polarization upgrades, radars can even detect the type of precipitation. But radar can’t detect precipitation at ground level. In the past, the NWS has depended on a small number of trained volunteer spotters to provide “ground truth.” A recent project at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) aims to expand the number of precipitation reports.

Called “PING”, the Precipitation Identification Near the Ground project uses mobile phone apps and a website to make it easy for members of the general public to provide immediate feedback on precipitation conditions. Feedback is available to the NWS and the public. The apps are available for free and present an easy interface. Expanding the available pool of spotters will be of great benefit to scientific understanding and to the warning process in general.