A dramatic lightning strike at Casino.
A dramatic lightning strike at Casino.

New extreme weather app: Help scientists map severe storms

ARE you a stormchaser or just someone who loves the wind, lightning, heavy rain and hail when a storm whips through?

Then you are perfectly placed to help climate science.

Researchers from Monash University School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes have developed a new app, WeatheX, to engage citizen scientists to report and photograph strong winds, tornadoes and flooding.

One of the researchers behind the app, Professor Christian Jakob, said it was important research because storm events were difficult to precisely forecast.

"Extreme rainfall events often happen in very localised areas - you can have a downpour in one area and five minutes drive away it is still bone dry - so it's very hard to get useful observations when recording stations are so far apart," he said.

"If citizen scientists can help us fill these gaps, then we can get more detail of these extreme events and potentially improve our understanding of how they develop, which could improve our prediction of severe weather events and their likely impacts."

Because the app is purely about getting good observations the reporting focus is on the event and not the users of the app.

Prof Jakob said privacy was paramount - users remain anonymous with no mobile numbers, names or email addresses required.

The only information the app collates is the location (street names are not included), type of weather event (hail, wind, flood, tornado), descriptions of the event and a photo if one is taken.

Information is then collated into a database where researchers can view data that shows the movement, development, changes and impacts from any observed storm system as it happens.

This data will also be made available to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for their research.

WeatheX researcher Dr Joshua Soderholm said if enough people got involved, the project could provide a "quantum leap forward in documenting and understanding extreme events in Australia".

"This can actually have profound impacts on understanding the science of storm," he said.

"And if you're a stormchaser, your observations could improve storm forecasts, meaning your chances of capturing photos of extraordinary storm events can only improve."

The free WeatheX app is available for download on Android and IOS.

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