WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Current weather conditions from your car!

Posted January 7, 2010

Every day, we show current temperatures and other conditions from dozens of locations across the state.  Most of those locations are airports, owing to an intricate history between meteorologists and the aviation industry that funded much of the data collection for decades.

Of course, that leads to the oft-heard complaint: "Nobody lives at the airport!"  To put that another way, do the conditions — temperatures, rain totals, etc. — at the airport fairly represent the conditions in between? 

There's a strong argument suggesting observations at airports are not as representative of conditions in the surrounding areas as we once thought, and that begs the question: where can we get more data?  A research team at the National Centers for Atmospheric Research says the answer is sitting in your garage, driveway, or parking lot.

Think about it.  Lots of cars these days have thermometers, and cars are, by their design, mobile.  How many temperature observations could we have for all the cars on the road?

Let's go a bit further with this.  Cars don't have rain gages or visibility detection equipment, but they do have windshield wipers and fog lamps.  So, if your car could report whether you're running the windshield wipers or fog lamps, that could tell us something about what the weather is doing where you and your car are.

Put all of that kind of information together from all the cars on the road, and you now have your hands on a very deep and robust dataset of weather conditions in places where it often matters — on the roads you and I travel every day.  That could even help prevent accidents.  "The goal is to reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths by getting drivers the information they need about nearby hazards," says Sheldon Drobot, the NCAR program manager in charge of the project. "The system will tell drivers what they can expect to run into in the next few seconds and minutes, giving them a critical chance to slow down or take other action."

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