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Android app turns phone into tiny weather station

Tuesday - 2/12/2013, 4:38am  ET

Galaxy S III (Getty Images)
The pressureNET app that can be downloaded on to the Android's Galaxy S III collects weather readings that can make forecasts more accurate. (Anna Webber/Getty Images Entertainment)

Michelle Basch, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Smartphones may have a hidden talent that could help make weather forecasts more accurate.

Newer Android devices, including the Galaxy S III smartphone and the Nexus 10 tablet, are equipped with atmospheric pressure sensors.

The sensors are there to help better estimate the phone's location and elevation, but researchers say if they're used as tiny weather stations they could lead to better forecasts.

"The more pressure readings we can get, the more accuracy in terms of what is happening where you are. It gives us a better idea of what's going to happen with the weather," says ABC7 Meteorologist Lauryn Ricketts.

She says the added sensors could be especially helpful in rural areas and during thunderstorms that can pop up suddenly.

Android users can download a free app called pressureNET that collects pressure readings and sends them to weather researchers at the University of Washington.

The app has been around since 2011, but was only recently updated so the data it collects could be shared with the university.

The app was collecting about 4,000 readings an hour last week, but University of Washington professor of Atmospheric Sciences Cliff Mass would like more people to download the app and take part.

The hope is to eventually collect pressure readings from thousands, even millions of devices and share the data with forecasters.

"We'll...enhance weather accuracy tenfold if we can get all those data points with a cellphone. It's incredible," Ricketts says.

The research is funded in part by the National Weather Service.

Click here to download the pressureNET app.

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