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Montreal-based SkyMotion app offers local by-the-minute weather forecasts

TORONTO - There's not much differentiating most of the weather forecasts available online, which might differ by a degree or two but mostly look the same.

But Montreal-based SkyMotion offers a different take on weather forecasting, eschewing a focus on the temperature and instead delivering an educated guess on whether any rain or snow can be expected soon, exactly where you are.

The company, which was acquired late last year by U.S.-based weather giant AccuWeather, asks users for their address and then outputs a forecast for the next two hours. The online service even offers precipitation predictions on a minute-by-minute basis.

SkyMotion is the brain child of Andre LeBlanc, who started cobbling together his own forecasts for his commute to work by bike by tapping into various online resources.

He was frustrated that traditional forecasts covered whole cities, even though the weather could be dramatically different on opposite ends of town.

"I was using weather radars online and various meteorological products to try to get a general sense if I would get wet (going to work) or when would be the right time for me to leave and come back home. And I figured out the way I was doing it manually could probably be automated using some of the algorithms I already knew of," LeBlanc said.

"Ultimately I found out it actually worked, I could make it home just in time without getting wet."

Each forecast targets the area within one kilometre of a user's address and is updated every few minutes.

Of course, LeBlanc concedes that SkyMotion can't promise 100 per cent accuracy.

"Sometimes Mother Nature is just unpredictable. Most of the time, if you see an imprecision on the system it's because a precipitation event has just spawned almost straight overhead or very close to you," said LeBlanc, who added that he's very happy with the service's accuracy rate, although he wouldn't disclose it.

"It's definitely something we keep an eye on, we know how the system performs, we're very happy with it, and like any other prediction system there's always something you can learn and new technology you can deploy to make it better.

"We know how to make it better, this is something we're working progressively on in the coming months and years."

Getting acquired by AccuWeather has strengthened SkyMotion's ability to provide accurate predictions and will help the service further expand globally, LeBlanc said.

"We're able to leverage a lot more access to data because they have access to a lot more information that we can plug into the system and the system can be a lot more precise."

SkyMotion is also encouraging crowdsourcing and hopes users will get in the habit of filing on-the-ground weather reports to supplement its data.

"The more observations you have the better, the more precise the system will be," LeBlanc said.

"It may be raining up high, so the radar will pick up that it's raining, but as the rain falls (sometimes) it actually evaporates and nothing is left by the time it reaches the ground. The more people contribute to the system the more precise the system will be."

SkyMotion forecasts can be accessed at www.skymotion.com or with an Apple iOS, Google Android or Windows Phone app.

The Canadian Press


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