The weather data collected every day can have a range of new benefits if it is made open and interpreted in the right way.
A surprisingly vast amount of weather data is freely available online to anybody wanting to use it. However, for the most part it is not being utilized to its full potential.
There are thousands of possible applications for this information, but few that are actually brought to fruition. This is partially down to a lack of consistency, with weather data not always being available for certain regions, but also due to a lack of awareness around the exciting possibilities it presents. Hopefully, this is set to change in the near future.
We live in what is perhaps the golden age of freedom of information. However, not all data is completely accessible. Organizations that collect information are under no obligation to share it, and this can lead to some large gaps in our collective knowledge. This is a shame, because open data is beneficial for a wide range of people. For example, the release of information generally helps the economy. One instance of this can be seen in the case of Zillow, a Seattle-based firm that uses open data regarding real estate sales. The firm relies on this to provide estimates on house prices, among other things.
The company now employs hundreds of people, and boosts the economy in a number of ways. All that was required to spur on its existence was for existing data to be made freely available; something that costs next to nothing. Then there is the huge benefit to the general public. With so much data flowing back and forth, it can be difficult to get the exact information you need. However, open data projects simplify this for everyone.
A great example is the Guardian Good GCSE Guide, which combines various open datasets into a searchable database of UK schools. Users can find schools that offer specific courses and compare their exam results, enabling them to make the best decisions about where to send their children. Weather data has also been used for this purpose. Monsanto and DuPont, both giants in the agricultural business, have developed what they call "prescriptive planting". This uses weather data, among a host of other open information, to tell farmers how densely their seeds should be planted, and at what depth.
Of course, there are a few flaws in the current state of open data, particularly weather data. The first of these is simply that information on its own is not worth much unless it can be interpreted. The raw data is interesting for a select few, but for the vast majority of people it has next to no practical use.
Take for example an open dataset of air pressure in a particular region. On its own, this cannot tell people what weather to dress for. It cannot tell farmers how to look after their crops or livestock, or help workers decide which form of transport to take to the office. For most people the data is essentially meaningless.
This represents a key opportunity for innovators, developers and a range of other talented people who can fill this niche. Open data does not just need to be interpreted, but also combined with other datasets to form a complete picture of whatever is being measured. Apps and programs help transform raw information into something meaningful for consumers.
To a certain extent, open data that is not interpreted in some way cannot really be said to be open. If it only makes sense to a specialized group of people with the knowledge to 'read' it, then it is effectively closed off to the vast majority of humanity. That is why it is so important to make as much use of open data as possible. It has been used to provide consumers with everything from bus arrival times to their local crime rates to the voting records of politicians.
Weather data is particularly important, as everyone from individuals to huge companies can benefit from it. Applications that make use of open weather data can therefore potentially have a huge impact.
The importance of creating these applications should be clear. The crucial measurements taken every day can be used in different ways by people from all walks of life if the right tools are provided to them. In this way, simple information can create new benefits for everyone.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Vaisala.