HomeTechnologyNewsWhere do weather apps get their information from?

Where do weather apps get their information from?

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Weather apps and services use a combination of data from government agencies, private companies like IBM, and independent weather stations.

There are many different weather apps and services, but how different is the data from each app? Where do you get your information from? It turns out that many of them may have the same font for your specific location, but how do you get that data can be tricky.

Weather apps probably seem simple on the surface: you get the current temperature, a forecast for the next few days, and possibly radar maps and links to news. Some apps go further with more specialized features, like push notifications for weather warnings, a cleaner interface, or more options for visual displays like maps.

Most of the work that goes into weather apps and services is collecting basic data. Most weather apps combine data from several different sources, depending on the data each service provides and the areas they cover. For example, a data provider may have many weather stations in France or Australia, but no stations in Canada. Combining data from different providers means an app can work in more regions.

Some weather providers have their own apps and sites for checking weather reports, such as Apple Weather and AccuWeather, while others simply function as data sources for other apps to use. Adding to the confusion, some weather providers fill in the holes in their own data with data from other providers, depending on the region. It’s how cellular networks work: T-Mobile may have roaming agreements with AT&T to ensure you still have some coverage in areas where T-Mobile doesn’t have towers, and vice versa.

That’s a lot of generalization and not a lot of specific examples. Let’s take a look at weather reports across the United States and how their data (along with data from other governments, businesses, and independent organizations) is mixed to appear in your weather app.

How the US collects weather data

Much of the raw weather data in the US comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA for short, which is a division of the federal government’s Department of Commerce. NOAA is tasked with maintaining coastal ecosystems, supporting marine trade (such as fishing), and climate and weather research. Under NOAA is the National Weather Service, or NWS, which provides data on weather, water, and weather.

The NWS collects surface weather data with many Automated Surface Observing Systems, or ASOS. They are operated in association with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Department of Defense (DoD), yes, that is a lot of acronyms. The stations continually collect data on sky conditions, visibility, ambient temperature, pressure, obstructions to vision (such as fog), wind speed, and more. There are more than 900 ASOS sites in the United States, the majority located in airports. The FAA has a map of all observing stations.

Photo of a person repairing a weather station.
Example of an ASOS NWS extension

There are also some older data stations, called Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) units, which still make up some of the government’s weather data. According to NOAA, they “generally report at 20-minute intervals and, unlike ASOS, do not report special observations for rapidly changing weather conditions.” Both types of weather stations can only detect the weather directly above them, so ASOS data is usually supplemented by human observations.

The NWS also collects data from oceans, lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water with a network of automated buoys. Weather balloons are also used twice a day at about 92 sites in the United States, helping to predict forecasts and storms. On top of that, NOAA owns and operates 11 satellites: five in geostationary orbit, five orbiting the Earth’s poles, and one located farther out at the L1 Sun-Earth Lagrange point. There are also six more satellites that are operated by NOAA but owned by other agencies, such as the Air Force and NASA.

Diagram of satellites around the Earth
NOAA’s Current Satellite Missions NOAA

The vast network of ground stations, buoys, balloons, and satellites provide the US government with more than enough data to inform forecasts and active weather conditions. You can view data directly from weather.gov, which shows current conditions, forecasts, radar maps, and even technical data for any location in the United States. Pro tip: that’s a great place to check the weather you No bombard you with requests for push notifications and unrelated news.

Importantly, most NOAA data is public and is shared directly with businesses and other organizations through NOAA’s Open Data Dissemination (NODD) Program, including Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. As a result, much of the weather reporting in the United States, especially long-range forecasts, is based to some extent on NOAA data.

How the data gets to your weather app

Many weather apps and services in the US don’t connect directly to NOAA data: they use an API from a third-party company, which may also be mixed with data from other agencies or private companies. For example, IBM Cloud is a popular global provider of weather data, using data from NOAA and many other sources, plus additional processing from proprietary tools like a custom supercomputer.

Weather Report for Atlanta GA on Google Search
Google Search uses The Weather Channel for weather data, which in turn is based on the IBM Cloud

Both Weather Channel and Weather Underground are owned by IBM and primarily use weather information from the IBM Cloud. APIs provided by IBM, The Weather Channel, and Weather Underground are in turn used by other applications and services. Google uses The Weather Channel for weather information. MSN Weather, which appears on Bing, Windows, and other Microsoft services, primarily uses data from a company called Foreca, which in turn combines data from 50 different sources (including NOAA and JPL in the United States).

Apple has been working on its own weather data platform for the past few years. Acquired weather app and data provider Dark Sky in 2020, converted the API to WeatherKit, and updated the Weather app on all Apple devices to use the company’s platform. Prior to that (iOS 15.2 and earlier on iPhone), Apple’s weather apps relied entirely on The Weather Channel. Apple Weather itself is still mixing in data from other sources, including NOAA in the US, the Met Office in the UK, etc.

mixing everything

That’s a lot of information to take in, so let’s summarize. Weather apps get their information from data providers like IBM, Apple Foreca, and others. Those providers sometimes do specialized processing to provide more accurate information or mix data from personal weather stations, but much of the raw information comes from government agencies like NOAA. Those agencies also share data, resources, and expertise with each other.

So where does your weather app get its information from? The answer is… many places! There are dozens of connected government agencies, businesses, and groups working together to share and improve each other’s data. Several different applications may use the same data source for the current conditions of a specific location, for example, an automated station owned by NOAA. Forecasts, radar maps, and other information are much more than a collaborative effort.



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