WeatherFlow aims for better forecasting

Weather forecasting in the ocean has proved a difficult endeavor over the years. Also, wind energy companies have struggled to find more accurate forecasts to determine where best to locate their systems.

WeatherFlow, a Rocky Mountain Innosphere company with 30 employees and offices in six states, believes it has the answer to both problems.

Established about a decade ago and an Innosphere company the past five years, the company’s operations address everything from capturing wind speeds of hurricanes to websites that provide windsurfing and kitesurfing conditions.

It has worked with academic, industry and government researchers on matters covering a range of atmospheric and oceanographic sciences, including the National Oceanographic and Atmosphere Administration, U.S. military and more than a dozen universities.

WeatherFlow’s consumer products include an application called WindAlert for the web and smart phones that gives global wind observations from more than 50,000 stations. Its iWindsurf.com gives detailed wind information for windsurfing spots nationwide through graphs, email alerts, cameras and a mapping system.

Designed for sailors, WeatherFlow’s SailFlow.com offers general weather information as well as watches and warnings.

It’s difficult to imagine how a company based in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains has inserted itself in the oceanic meteorology field. But it started with a computer model called Regional Atmospheric Modeling System, or RAMS, developed by Colorado State University professors William R. Cotton and Roger Pielke.

“We’ve spent years working on how to run it and how to make it better,´ said Marty Bell, director of research and modeling for WeatherFlow.

Most weather stations measure conditions inland. Few stations measure weather on the ocean, Bell said.

The company began by measuring conditions for windsurfers on the East and West coasts. It quickly realized that the technology was commercially viable for sailing, including for military and shipping activities. The company has more than two decades of experience in applying forecasting, modeling and observational technology.

Today, the company hopes its RAMS technology will provide precise weather modeling for wind energy companies, which must know whether they will have enough wind to produce energy. Better forecasts will help them form contingencies in case the wind dies or if there’s too much wind.

Weather forecasting could play an important role if the U.S. Department of Energy follows through on plans to harness wind energy.

The energy department recently announced a six-year, $180 million initiative to support as many as four offshore wind energy installations. America’s offshore wind resources are estimated at more than 4,000 gigawatts, the department said.

“These investments are critical to ensuring that America remains competitive in this growing global industry that can drive new manufacturing, construction, installation and operation jobs across the country,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

The energy department hopes to lower the cost and accelerate the speed of developing offshore wind technologies. It’s also is working to implement a comprehensive offshore wind energy strategy, streamline permitting and conduct resource assessments.

A team of WeatherFlow forecasters currently are studying weather off the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia. Funded by the federal stimulus package, the project will run through 2015.

Everyone knows that weather forecasts inland often contain inaccuracies. Ocean weather forecasts are even less accurate.

It’s a complicated and expensive ordeal. Waves can destroy weather stations that cost millions of dollars. Weather assessments contain a great deal of errors.

“A lot more has to be understood about the resource,” Bell said.

WeatherFlow, however, has been working to increase the understanding of weather on the ocean by mounting its instruments on coastal weather towers. Its technology also measures wind with sound waves.

“Because of the skills that we have and years and years and years we’ve spent in this domain, we actually have a pretty good feel for what goes on and why things occur,” he said.

Now the hope is it’ll have a new market, too.

Steve Lynn covers technology for the Northern Colorado Business Report. He can be contacted at slynn@ncbr.com or 970-232-3147.


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