If a major snowstorm hits the region today, as predicted, those in affected areas will have a new way to get information: through crowdsourcing. And the big surprise is that the free app called mPING isn’t the product of some Kendall Square startup — or of the private Weather Channel, which has busied itself with giving evocative names to snowstorms — but rather the federal government. Even the folks who bring you the National Weather Service are seeking new ways of finding the much-hyped storm “Nemo.”
Forecasters who’ve long relied on radar have also understood that weather behaves in unpredictable ways on the ground. Thus, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has launched mPING (for Precipitation Identification Near the Ground), through which users can report the extent of precipitation at their location. The potential for misuse by pranksters is obvious, but the hope is that outlier information will be overwhelmed by bona fide participants. Then, the reports can help direct public resources to people and places most in need.
The app, which NOAA is operating with the University of Oklahoma, is still relatively new. It might be worth testing this weekend. People snowed in at home will have plenty of time to do so.