When some smartphone manufacturers began including pressure sensors to determine the phone's elevation and help pinpoint its location, researchers said they saw an opportunity to enhance weather prediction.
Owners of certain new Android smartphones and tablet computers can download an app called PressureNet that measures atmospheric pressure and forwards the data to researchers at the university.
"With this approach we could potentially have tens or hundreds of thousands of additional surface pressure observations, which could significantly improve short-term weather forecasts," atmospheric science Professor Cliff Mass said in a university release.
The PressureNet app, developed by Canadian company Cumulonimbus, has been collecting about 4,000 observations per hour, mostly in the northeastern United States and around some major cities.
"We need more density," Mass said. "Right now it's a matter of getting more people to contribute."
Android devices equipped with pressure sensors include Samsung's Galaxy S3, Galaxy Nexus, Galaxy Note and Nexus 4 smartphones, and the Nexus 10 and Motorola Xoom tablet computers.
The app could be particularly important in the center of the country, which is prone to severe storms but includes fewer weather observation stations than other regions, Mass said.
"Thunderstorms are one of the areas of weakest skill for forecasting," he said. "I think thunderstorms in the middle part of the country could potentially be the biggest positive for this approach. They are relatively small-scale, they develop over a few hours, they can be severe and can affect people significantly."
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