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Weather: weather radar, high-res data and mobiles

Friday, August 18, 2017

Oil and gas companies can take advantage of three technology developments to better understand weather: lower cost weather radars, high-resolution data and mobile computing, says Jim Menard of The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

Oil and gas companies can improve their understanding of weather using three different technology developments: reduced cost of weather radar technology, improvements in the resolution of data, and better mobile computing, says Jim Menard, general manager of the enterprise division of The Weather Company, an IBM Business.

The Weather Company provides weather services to a number of industry sectors, including aviation, energy and insurance.

Weather radar

A weather radar is a piece of equipment which can be installed on an offshore installation or vessel, which sends out microwaves into the air, which are reflected back if they encounter water droplets or ice.

The radars can see 80km 'fairly reliably'. They can also calculate which way any water droplets are moving, and how fast, using the Doppler Effect.

This way, it is possible for offshore operations staff to get a good prediction of rain which is heading their way, and when it will arrive. They can also get advance warning of tornadoes, if they can see water droplets rotating.

Until 2015, weather radars were very expensive, large and heavy, and installing them was a major civil engineering project. But lately they have become much smaller and cheaper, so it becomes viable to consider installing them in remote locations, Mr Menard says.

The cost of the radar has dropped by a fairly substantial amount, he says.

The weather radars are designed to survive in remote locations, such as on top of mountains, so they are very resilient. They are also used by TV stations to help manage remote broadcasts. TV stations sometimes use them to generate real time maps of forest fires, for broadcast on TV.

These satellites are small enough to be carried around on pick-up trucks. 'A few years ago - the idea of throwing a weather radar on a bed of a pick-up truck - would have been a really silly thought,' he says.

The Weather Company is currently discussing installing these systems on board remote assets for major oil companies, he said.

The data can be fed into locally running computer models. If the remote asset has enough satellite bandwidth, the data from the radar can be sent on to The Weather Company's weather center in Boston, where 'we can apply more resources to it,' he says.

The Weather Company is very keen to hear from oil and gas companies interested in testing out different ways to use the radars (the company can be contacted at


There have been big improvements in the resolution of weather data, in the models developed by weather forecasting organisations, Mr Menard says.

There are a few dimensions to high resolution. You can get a weather prediction for a smaller space on earth, up to 2km x 1km square, for any place on the planet. You can get more precise predictions about when exactly the weather will change. You can also get much better predictions in advance.

All of this can make a big difference to people planning oil and gas operations, particularly for parts of the world which are a long way from mainstream consumer weather services, he says.

As an example, consider an offshore worker who can see the sky is starting to look menacing, or there is lightning in the distance, and needs to make an expensive decision, for example about whether to reschedule helicopters or maintenance work. Better weather information can make a big help in this decision making.

A company may decide that they are comfortable doing certain work if lightning is over 5km from a platform, but would like to stop immediately if it is under 5km away.

With more sophisticated weather systems, you can get a better idea if the lightning is going to be within 5 km of the platform, rather than wait until it actually is. 'You can be a lot more precise,' he says.

When there is a risk of extreme weather events, the information can help a company decide whether or not to shut the rig down and evacuate.

And having better weather information 10 days in advance can be very helpful when planning future operations.

Companies like The Weather Company take data feeds from more than 160 different computer models around the world, many state run, including from the US, UK, EU, Canada and Japan. The European Centre for Medium Range Forecasting, based in the UK, is 'arguably one of the best models in the world,' Mr Menard says.

The company continually rates each of the models, by comparing their predictions against what actually happens.

'No one model is always right, but with several models, our accuracy and forecasting goes up dramatically,' he says.


A third technology development which helps people to better understand the weather is mobile phone software.

In terms of presenting the data, the company develops a range of mobile apps and websites, and has done an enormous amount of research into the best way to display complex information to people who aren't meteorologists.

It is possible to set up alerts easily, for example warning people that winds will be gusting to 70 miles an hour or there is a big squall coming.

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