(Image courtesy of Jeff Schmaltz, NASA).

ClimaCell Forecasts the Weather by Dissecting Wireless Signals

ClimaCell is making unusual use of the wireless networks that connect smartphones and other gadgets. The start-up analyzes disturbances in wireless signals that could indicate rain, humidity, or other weather conditions, and it provides forecasts to businesses like airlines, shipping companies, and utilities.

ClimaCell partners with wireless companies that share massive amounts of data about the behavior of wireless signals as they travel over the air to and from base stations. Taking advantage of the sensitivity of these signals to interference, the company claims that it can predict the weather in an area as small as an individual city block.

The company, which was only founded in 2015, can refresh its weather models every minute, allowing it to forecast six hours into the future. But the company combines its conclusions with data from other sources like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which operates a battalion of satellites and radar systems, to refine its forecasts.

“What we’re accessing is signals and measurements from a variety of networks,” said Shimon Elkabetz, chief executive and one of the founders of ClimaCell, in a blog post. “We are assembling the networks constantly, analyzing the signals very fast, integrating them with NOAA data, and then plugging everything together in a model.”

The company, based in Boston, Massachusetts, recently raised $15 million in funding to compete with IBM’s The Weather Company and Monsanto’s The Climate Corporation as well as start-ups like Spire, which wants to launch a constellation of weather satellites and sell what they see to the agriculture and transportation industries.

For ClimaCell, the new funding will be used to target customers outside the United States. Elkablatz also said in an interview with technology website Xconomy that the funding would be used to refine its software and double its employee ranks to around 50 people. It previously raised around $5 million, according to venture capital database Crunchbase.

ClimaCell lets customers either access its weather maps over the cloud or use a programming interface to integrate its software. The company already licenses software to airlines, which can use ClimaCell’s forecasts to plan flight routes or instruct pilots not to taxi if inclement weather will prevent them from taking off.

Other industries like shipping and ride-sharing could also benefit. (Fortinalis, an investor in transportation start-ups like Lyft and Nutonomy, chipped into ClimaCell’s funding round). The company’s forecasts could also be used to help plan when to plant, harvest, and transport food. Or as another source of information for emergency management agencies.

And these industries stake billions of dollars on weather forecasts. Almost three-fourths of air traffic delays are caused by weather, at a cost of $6 billion per year to airlines, says the American Meteorological Society. Utilities generate electricity based on temperature forecasts, and in the United States that saves them more than $150 million per year.

“By shifting from forecasting to more accurate, granular, real-time predictions – ‘what we call nowcasting’ – ClimaCell is changing the way massive industries assess, manage and make decisions around weather risk,” said Rich Boyle, general partner at investment firm Canaan, in a statement.

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