Storm Surge: Wharton initiative taps into global weather data

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The recent spate of catastrophic weather events has made vivid how access to advanced, real-time weather data by planners, businesses and decision makers can be a matter of life and death.

Now a new collaboration between the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Customer Analytics Initiative (WCAI) and Earth Networks will provide academic researchers with weather and lightning data from around the world.

Earth Networks, based in Maryland, operates a global weather observation network that includes more than 10,000 weather stations — updated with live data every two seconds — and over 1,500 lightning sensors in more than 90 countries.

This “environmental intelligence,” as Earth Networks calls it, is used by schools, airports, sports teams, utilities and government agencies to “safeguard lives, prepare for weather events and customize operations,” the company says. “Companies across all industries use our weather data to automate decisions regarding risk management, business continuity and asset protection.”

WCAI is an academic research center focused on customer analytics methods — they help companies understand how to better monetize data through the development and application of new predictive models.

Monitoring the planet is critical to understanding how the global climate is changing and how this is affecting public and private sectors downstream.Anuj Agrawal, Earth Networks CMO

The new partnership “is a game changer in providing our faculty and student researchers with access to real-time weather data and analytics,” says Professor Eric T. Bradlow, WCAI’s co-founder and co-director. “The combination of Earth Networks’ weather intelligence data and our data analytics resources will spur the development and application of new applied predictive models for a wide range of commercial sectors, and offer the University of Pennsylvania community unprecedented weather data access.”

WCAI will leverage the data to advance analytics across weather-influenced industries – everything from telematics, to aviation, insurance and retail; to inspire new faculty-advised undergraduate and graduate projects at Penn and among university-related researchers around the world; to develop innovative analytic models and software solutions with commercial potential; and to invigorate course curricula.

Eric T. Bradlow, Chairperson, Wharton Marketing Department

Six new apps are under development with PennApps, and a customer analytics and weather data visualization hackathon for Penn students is in the works.

Climate change underscores the need for advanced weather data.

“Monitoring the planet is critical to understanding how the global climate is changing and how this is affecting public and private sectors downstream,” says Anuj Agrawal, Earth Networks CMO. “Using historical and real-time data to drive analytics can unlock previously unavailable insight on the impact of weather.”

Agrawal reports that clients in Florida and Texas were able to use Earth Networks’ data in their emergency response, helping them know where and when the recent hurricanes would hit. The company’s dangerous thunderstorm alerts provide 50 percent more lead time than publicly available sources, triggering safety and operational procedures.

“There has been research done on how climate change might affect precipitation patterns and amounts,” adds Agrawal. “Some research has shown that excessive rainfall events have increased as the earth has warmed. Convective rainfall – rainfall events that have lightning associated with them – is part of the equation. The theory is that a warming earth will cause more convection and thus more lightning.  It’s also been noted that more lightning has been observed in ocean areas where shipping lanes are active. This shows that mankind can affect the weather in ways that can be documented and measured.”

ELISE VIDER is news editor of Keystone Edge.

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