Micro Forecasting Taps Into the Weather Internet of Things
An advanced weather service recently taken up by airlines and other industries that need hyper-accurate forecasting is making inroads into construction, and early-adopting roofing companies already are beginning to rely on its granular forecasts and alerts.
ClimaCell, based in Boston, provides reports and text alerts that Brent Robinson, production manager at Pacific West Roofing, Tualatin, Ore., uses to learn if rain is coming to a jobsite at a particular address, but not to another site a short distance away. Robinson says, in the Pacific Northwest, that information is “invaluable.” He says a roofing job can mean $120,000 to the company, and missing an opportunity to work because of a faulty forecast is costly. “If we don’t get out on that job, the labor loss is going to cost us thousands [of dollars]. If we did go out there [and it rains] and we weren’t prepared, the cost would be exponential,” Robinson says.
Another user, Zach Clarke, director of residential operations at White Castle Roofing, Lincoln, Neb., says, “ClimaCell has helped our business by giving us more advanced precipitation warning on when we should or shouldn’t be out roofing. Whether we are going to attempt to send our crews out to start projects or letting them know when we need to get back to a watertight status, getting the forecast exact is a huge deal.”
ClimaCell was founded in October 2015 and brought its first commercial product to market April 1, 2017. Itai Zlotnik, chief customer officer and co-founder, says the company was created to provide a new approach to forecasting, in terms of the data used and how it’s analyzed. “On the data side, we start with all the traditional meteorological sources—satellites, radars, weather stations—but then add millions of Weather-of-Things data points from the connected world. That’s everything from data from wireless towers to connected cars, airplanes, drones and IoT devices,” Zlotnik says.
“Since weather impacts everything, nearly everything can serve as a sensor that tells us about weather that is not ‘seen’ by traditional sources. We then analyze that data with proprietary, high-resolution models and process [it] in minutes versus hours, and [at a scale of] hundreds of meters versus kilometers.” Zlotnik says. The result is MicroWeather, the company’s service that provides minute-by-minute, street-by-street, rooftop-level forecasting. These forecasts, on everything from temperature to precipitation, lightning, wind speed, humidity and visibility, are hyper-accurate, site-specific and customizable to each user’s needs, Zlotnik claims.
“When you look at a basic weather app, it gives you a general idea that maybe it’s raining or today you will see this kind of weather,” Robinson says. “This technology taps into smart cars and the newer car systems to know it’s raining right here, based on windshield wipers coming on.”
“Both the phone app and web-based online tool are good,” he adds. “I’m able to plug in an address and save it and set parameters around it. If it’s raining any more than zero inches, I want to know.”
Zlotnik says the data ClimaCell gets from the connected world is always at an anonymized, network level. It is not sensitive, private or attributable to any of its data-partner’s users. “With microwaves, for example, we only look at the signal strength—the energy level of the signal, which is degraded by precipitation—rather than at the [data] itself.” He says the company is compliant with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation and has been cleared by regulators in multiple countries.
Robinson’s firm began using the technology in May. He says he got a first-year subscription at a discount because he agreed to speak about the service to other roofers, since they didn’t have any other such clients at the time. A company spokeswoman says the vendor doesn’t discuss pricing “as each of our customers acquires a customized package, including different features. So the pricing for each client is completely different.”