Australia researchers are calling on storm chasers and members of the general public fascinated by severe weather to take part in a citizen science project that will help better capture the occurrence of extreme weather events and improve our ability to forecast them.

The key to the research is the updated WeatheX app, designed by climate scientists and meteorologists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and Monash University, in collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology, IAG, Risk Frontiers and the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. The WeatheX app aims to help every Australian with a mobile device capture reports and images of severe weather events in real time when it is safe to do so.

With WeatheX, anyone can report the severity, location and timing of hail, wind damage, flooding and rainfall. 

“The app is designed to be quick and simple to use, but the data it provides to researchers is invaluable in helping us document and unravel the complexity of extreme weather systems,” said the founding researcher behind WeatheX from the Bureau of Meteorology, Dr Joshua Soderholm.

“The challenge with storms has always been that they often impact a small area and are short-lived, therefore they can miss being measured by weather stations, while weather radar cannot capture what’s happening at ground level. And, hail size measurements are only possible from citizen reports. This app aims to solve those issues.”

The latest version of the WeatheX app has incorporated new features in direct response to requests from the weather watching community. Social media integration means app users can now post real-time map information and reports to their own social media accounts or favourite weather pages and groups. App users can also now report rainfall and receive alerts if new reports are submitted near their location.

That said, the creators of WeatheX have continued to maintain a high level of privacy for all users. The default setting is for all reports and photos to remain anonymous and no identifying information is ever collected. The decision to post on social media accounts is entirely in the hands of the users.

The information gathered by storm-watching citizen scientists is compared to Bureau of Meteorology radar images, instrumental records and other data points to create a rich database that will be in used in peer-reviewed research to improve our understanding of severe weather. WeatheX data will also contribute to the Bureau of Meteorology Severe Storms Archive.

The importance of the data produced by the app goes beyond research according to IAG’s Executive Manager – Natural Perils, Mark Leplastrier.

“As Australia’s largest general insurance company, we see the impact of extreme weather events on our customers firsthand. The more data we have, the better we can predict these types of events and take actions to protect our communities,” Mr Leplastrier said.

“We’re proud to be part of the launch of the Weathex app – it forms part of our focus on increasing our understanding of, and contribution to, the science around extreme weather.”

The earlier version of WeatheX has already been used during two high impact events – the December 20, 2018, Sydney hailstorm and the January 19-21, 2020, SE Australia hailstorm outbreak, which resulted in total insured losses of more than $1.63 billion according to the Insurance Council of Australia. Now, with the summer storm season just around the corner, it is hoped citizen scientists can step up again and deliver detailed data and images.

“We know there are many people across Australia who are fascinated by weather and in particular storms. Those Australians have the potential to turn this interest in wild weather into something that can make a genuine difference to our ability to understand and forecast these storms,” Dr Soderholm said.

“We not only look forward to the data they can help us gather but will be seeking out their deeper engagement with the app, so they can tell us how we can make the next version even better. In many ways the future directions we take with the app and the information we gather will revolve around those people who are as fascinated by the weather as we are.”