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Tech Savvy: Crowdsourcing weather reports

The mPING app allows forecasters to utilize citizen reports about weather across the globe to aid them in decision making.

Weather has certainly been a radar watching, conversation topic this week with dangerous storms hitting the lakes area.

An app, launched in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Oklahoma, aims to help forecasters by involving citizen weather reporters across the nation and now the globe. A database is being created containing information from users.

People can use their smartphones to report hail, rain, snow, ice. It's all part of the Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground app or mPING.

It's a resource that came up during the annual weather spotter training this spring in Brainerd presented by National Weather Service meteorologists from Duluth. The NWS provides Skywarn training each spring to increase the eyes on the ground to help with warnings.

"In the average year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes occur across the United States," the Skywarn national homepage reports. Skywarn has been in existence since the 1970s and the volunteer program has trained nearly 290,000 severe weather spotters with a goal of getting "timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service."

The Skywarn training is free and takes about two hours. But mPING offers another option for those interested in weather reporting. It allows anyone with the free mPING mobile app to report. It's available in 11 languages.

Go to https://mping.ou.edu to see the reporting in action in real time as the green droplets pop up on a map across the nation. There are icons and a legend covering everything from rain—hence the green droplets—to street flooding and whether basements are affected or entire homes and vehicles swept away. People may report blowing dust and sand to blowing snow, dense fog, mudslides, or represent the power of the wind via uprooted trees, roofs torn away, or buildings destroyed. Icons differentiate from wind that displaces lawn furniture to wind strength that blows off shingles or snaps powerpoles.

A look at the app in action Thursday had reports of street flooding in Colorado and Kentucky. Minnesota was quiet. Reporting isn't limited to the United States. In January of this year, the global reach of the app was announced at the American Meteorological Society's annual meeting in New Orleans.

"Since its launch in December 2012, mPING (meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground) has received nearly a million weather reports on U.S.-based weather events including rain, snow, ice, wind, hail, tornadoes, floods, landslides, fog and dust storms," the NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory reported in January. "These reports are used to improve forecasts related to road maintenance, aviation operations and public warnings.

"Now, users around the world and outside the continental U.S. can participate in mPING and see their reports. The updated interface is user-friendly and available globally. ... Use of mPING data is expanding as well. NOAA National Weather Service forecasters now have access to mPING observations on their office workstations. This means NWS forecasters will be able to overlay mPING reports with other data such as radar and satellite observations to aid them in their decision-making."

With the lakes area taking direct hits last July and from the tornado and funnel clouds last Sunday, the potential for severe weather is certainly on people's minds this summer. Now everyone can participate and help improve both the database and weather forecasts for the future—all with a mobile app.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz.