- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

Weather nerds of the world, unite.

The Gaithersburg company that operates WeatherBug, a popular online weather information service, is giving average Joes an opportunity to shape the forecast.

AWS Convergence Technologies Inc. executives said Wednesday that about 1,300 people have become “backyard weather reporters” for WeatherBug, using personal weather stations that cost between $200 and $900 to collect detailed information on the conditions near their home.

The data that the stations gather is fed into WeatherBug’s extensive online matrix, which includes data from weather stations at about 8,000 schools across the nation.

For weather enthusiasts, the opportunity to help shape a forecast is like a dream come true.

“I can sit here on my computer and spit out this stuff just like I am on TV,” said Gary M. Burke, a retiree near Las Vegas who owns one of the personal weather stations.

AWS executives would not disclose the number of personal weather stations it has sold since they were introduced in November.

About 1,300 station owners are feeding the information they collect into the WeatherBug system, said Pete Celano, the company’s vice president of marketing. This number represents more than half of all the stations sold, he said.

In the next few years, AWS hopes to build an army of between 20,000 and 30,000 backyard weather reporters.

“We are out to blanket America,” Mr. Celano said.

A blog set up for the backyard reporters, at https://blog.weatherbug.com/backyard, primarily contains posts from AWS meteorologists.

The company makes its data available for free over the Internet at www.weatherbug.com. An advertising-free, expanded version of the WeatherBug Web site is available for about $20 a month.

WeatherBug is the Internet’s most popular weather site. About 18 million Internet users visited the site in April, according to the comScore Media Metrix research service.

The backyard reporters are intended to complement the weather information collected from the 8,000 stations at the schools, Mr. Celano said.

“You can’t have too many sensors out there collecting information,” he said.

Mr. Burke, for one, is thrilled to play a role in shaping the forecast.

The personal weather station in his backyard allows his friends and relatives to know the conditions in his neighborhood at all times. Mr. Burke said the device looks kind of like a coffee pot, with an antenna and a solar panel attached.

The information Mr. Burke’s station collects — including wind speeds, barometric pressure and, of course, the temperature — is fed into the WeatherBug system, but it is also channeled onto a personal Web site that the retired ski equipment maker maintains.

Mr. Burke, 66, tells his children in Washington state and Canada to check out his Web site if they want to know what the weather is like in his neighborhood.

He recalled an incident last year when his daughter called him on the telephone, desperate to know whether he was being affected by the flash floods in Las Vegas that were being shown live on the TV news.

“I told her, ‘I’m sitting by the pool with my feet in the water, drinking a glass of lemonade,’ ” Mr. Burke recalled. Even though it was flooding in Las Vegas, his neighborhood, located about eight miles away, was fine, he said.

Mr. Burke said he still watches forecasters on TV, even though the information they give out is not as relevant as the data his station collects.

It’s unlikely services like WeatherBug will drive TV forecasters out of business, said David M. Card, an analyst at Jupiter Research in New York.

“TV weather is much more about personality. If you like the personality of the weather guy, you’re still going to watch the weather guy,” Mr. Card said.

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