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Better Weather Predictions Coming to the Developing World

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The International Business Machines Corporation, known as IBM, says it is making technology for precision weather predictions available to everyone.

The company said the new weather forecasts offer more details and bring a level of precision once available only in major industrial countries.

The forecasting tool is expected to help emergency officials better predict where severe storms will hit. It may also aid airline companies planning flight paths, as well as farmers caring for crops.

The new system creates weather forecasts more often and with finer details than what is available outside the United States, Europe and Japan.

Most forecasts have a resolution of 10 to 15 square kilometers and provide new information every six to 12 hours. IBM's Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System goes down to 3 square kilometers and provides information every hour.

"That's providing a level of detail that we've not been able to see in parts of the world such as Southeast Asia, Africa as well as South America," notes Kevin Petty. He serves as director of science and forecasting at The Weather Company, which IBM owns.

That kind of precision can provide details of where and when extremely heavy rain will fall. That could be useful in emergency situations, and could help farmers decide when to plant, harvest and fertilize crops.

Better forecasts around worldwide

Fred Carr is emeritus meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma, and was not involved with the project.

Carr says the United States has a similar high-resolution forecasting system, "but it's just for the U.S. because it takes so much computer time. To do it for the whole globe is a pretty significant achievement."

Carr added that it is possible to quickly collect observations from radar, airplanes and surface measurements in the United States. But he said it is not clear how IBM gets information from the other 98% of the world.

Carr said he believes there will be problems in getting information, so "sometimes those forecasts aren't going to be very accurate."

Users will be able to decide for themselves. The system now operates on the Weather.com website and The Weather Channel's application program for smartphones.

In the future, IBM hopes to improve its forecasts by collecting information from atmospheric pressure sensors used in such phones.

These sensors improve the precision of global positioning system, or GPS, technology. For example, they can help fitness tracking instruments measure how many steps a user has climbed.

IBM said it is not currently using this information but plans to offer users the chance to choose it.

Some privacy activists and governments have criticized technology companies for collecting this kind of information. The city of Los Angeles, California has brought a case against IBM for improperly using location information from Weather Channel app users.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

Steve Baragona reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

achievement – n. something that has been done or achieved through effort; a result of hard work

accurate – adj. free from mistakes or errors

forecast – n. a prediction of something in the future

meteorology – n. a science that deals with the atmosphere and with weather

precision – adj. designed for very accurate measurement or operation

resolution – n. a measure of the sharpness of an image or of the fineness with which a device such as a video display, printer, or scanner can produce or record such an image usually expressed as the total number or density of pixels in the image

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