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NOAA Summer Spotlight: mPING!

By: Kim Elmore
06 July 2016

Are raindrops falling on your head? Are you getting hassled by hail? Is snow glistening in your treetops? mPING needs your weather reports for their research!

The NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory is collecting public weather reports through a free app available for smart phones and mobile devices. The app is called “mPING” Meterological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground. Read more about the history of mPING (below), visit their website, and download the free app to become a citizen scientist/meteorologist!

The Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground (mPING) project evolved from a web page hosted at the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in 2006. The prototype dual-polarization NEXRAD radar was at NSSL and one of the new algorithms for this radar was called the Hydrometeor Classification Algorithm (HCA). The HCA was a warm-season algorithm to help identify precipitation processes for better quantitative precipitation estimation, help identify hail, and help filter out ground clutter and non-meteorological radar returns. But the HCA is only valid in the radar beam, which can be well above the ground. Yet, some forecasters expected the resulting display to show the surface precipitation type. That’s a misuse of the HCA, which was never intended to be used that way. The data gathered using the web page showed that if a winter surface HCA was needed, we needed to build one.

However, NSSL couldn’t use only the official National Weather Service (NWS) surface observations because there aren’t enough of them and they aren’t reported often enough. Crowdsourcing the needed observations from citizen scientists seemed the best approach. Thus, mPING was launched to help NSSL gather the necessary data. The mobile app resulted from happy happenstance: no one at NSSL knew how to make smartphone apps, but Zac Flamig, an OU Ph.D. graduate student, did and offered to make one for free in the Summer of 2012. By December 19, 2012, apps were available for iOS devices and Android devices. By crowd-sourcing observations of winter precipitation type, mPING has gathered well over one million observations of precipitation type.

But mPING isn’t just for winter: NSSL also needs observations of warm season weather, such as hail and hail size along with floods and their severity. The NWS also uses mPING data, which are fed directly into forecast offices. So, mPING also includes the ability to report tornadoes, wind damage severity, mudslides, fog, blowing dust and blowing snow. In this way, when you report with mPING you’re not only helping weather research progress, you’re helping operational, day-to-day forecasts in your local area.

Submitted by Kim Elmore, Ph.D. (Adj Assoc Prof., OU School of Meteorology, CMM PP SEL/MEL/Glider, N5OP, 2nd Class Radiotelegraph, GROL)