Leveraging New Ocean Data to Create a Better Weather Forecast

Forbes puts Saildrone Forecast among an innovative group of products developed by startups revolutionizing how weather is predicted.

Ask a five-year-old where the rain comes from and they’ll quickly tell you, “From the clouds.” But ask them how the rain got into the clouds, and most will draw a blank. The answer, of course, is our oceans. In fact, the majority of rainwater is water that evaporated from our oceans, which play a key role in driving global weather.

In a recent article published in Forbes, Susan Adams discusses how new technology is revolutionizing how the weather is predicted and modeled and how a surprising range of businesses stand to benefit. “A perfect storm of macro-trends—ever cheaper processing power, cloud computing, vastly improved AI, and a proliferation of low-cost sensors—has opened up the field to a fresh crop of ambitious startups,” she writes. Among those mentioned is Saildrone Forecast, which leverages cutting-edge Saildrone technology to create a more robust weather forecast.

Saildrone Forecast is the first weather prediction model powered by ocean drones—unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) deployed around the globe to record in-situ meteorological and oceanographic observations above and below the sea surface.

A saildrone is an unmanned surface vehicle powered by wind and solar energy that carries a payload of scientific sensors to record a range of in-situ observations above and below the sea surface.

Because they cover more than 70% of the planet, the oceans play a fundamental role in defining the weather we experience on land. The sun heats the Earth’s surface, which in turn warms the atmosphere. Ocean currents help to distribute heat from the warmer tropics to the poles. As oceans absorb heat, warm water evaporates, stored in the atmosphere as clouds. Pressure differences create surface winds, which carry the clouds over land. As warm clouds rise higher in the atmosphere, they cool until they can no longer hold the moisture they contain, which is how evaporated water from in the Tropical Pacific ends up as snow in the Rocky Mountains. Even hundreds of miles away from any coast, the weather on land is largely driven by the global ocean system.

In addition to remote sensing data from satellites, in-situ atmospheric and oceanographic observations such as air and sea temperature, atmospheric pressure, and wind speed and direction are all integral to weather predictions. Yet the majority of in-situ observations assimilated into publicly available weather models are from land-based stations. The amount of data collected from in-situ stations in the oceans has been very limited—until now.

Saildrone USVs are wind and solar powered and carry a suite of scientific sensors to record the in-situ data required as input into numerical weather models. They can be deployed from any dock and navigate autonomously along a prescribed set of waypoints to the areas where they’re needed most. Saildrones are actively collecting data about the world’s oceans for the science community in the Arctic, Antarctic, Tropical Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and North Sea, and the fleet is rapidly expanding. Our ultimate goal is to achieve 6x6 degree coverage of the world’s oceans—that’s one saildrone per 360 nautical miles squared—to provide planetary scale real-time observations.

Using wind power as their only source of propulsion and solar power to run their sensor payload, Saildrone’s USVs are uniquely dependent on weather as they sail around the world’s oceans. Saildrone’s mission control constantly relies on the best possible weather forecast to manage our autonomous vehicles all around the planet. Over time, the in-situ meteorological observations recorded by the fleet were integrated to improve our in-house weather prediction efforts. Better data means better forecasts and this was the genesis of Saildrone Forecast, which now makes this global data available to everyone in a visually compelling and easy-to-use application.

Access Saildrone Forecast via the iOS app and on the web and explore temperature, wind, rain and snow, clouds, solar, and ocean current predictions presented via remarkably detailed maps and intuitive hour-by-hour bar charts. Glance quickly for current conditions or create a custom view with only the weather information you need.

Saildrone Forecast wind animation
Wind predictions for San Francisco Bay visualized by Saildrone Forecast.

Saildrone Forecast provides free weather forecasts to everyone globally, as well as premium high-definition forecasts in a growing number of metro areas including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, Boston, New York, Annapolis, London, the Solent, and Palma de Mallorca. This innovative platform is already used by national sports teams and amateur athletes, and by insurance, finance, and media companies.

Download the app from the iOS App Store or visit forecast.saildrone.com today to see how Saildrone Forecast can help you train smarter and adventure better.


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