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Aaron in for Adam this morning. You’ve no doubt heard about the “Internet of Things”—maybe you’ve even heard too much—but Shimon Elkabetz wants you to start thinking about the “Weather of Things.”
While the government and most private weather forecasters rely on satellites and a network of weather stations and radars scattered around the country, there are many more devices out there that are collecting useful weather data. The signals sent for microwave communications, mobile phones, and satellite TV receivers are affected by weather, for example, while millions of cars measure the outdoor temperature and traffic cams record visibility. “We can turn everything into a weather sensor,” the 32-year-old Israeli Air Force veteran explains on a visit to the Boston headquarters of his startup, Climacell. It was during his 11 years in the military that Elkabetz witnessed the critical importance of accurate weather forecasts.
Elkabetz came to Cambridge, Mass. in 2015 to get an MBA at Harvard Business School. But he also reconnected with two buddies from back home, Rei Goffer and Itai Zlotnik, who had similar ideas about improving forecasting (both were across town getting their MBAs from MIT).
The trio co-founded Climacell with the aim of revolutionizing the industry by collecting data from all those disparate devices rather than relying on readings from the standard weather network. While there are about 12,000 data collecting stations and radars in the standard global weather forecasting network, Climacell gets data from close to 600 million individual reporting devices.
The CEO says the much more granular and detailed data, along with proprietary prediction algorithms, makes his company’s forecasts more accurate and useful than those from competitors like AccuWeather or IBM’s The Weather Co.
AccuWeather declined to comment on Climacell, but noted it was deemed the most accurate by third-party researcher ForecastWatch. “AccuWeather prides itself on our superior level of accuracy,” the company said in a statement. “This achievement, confirmed by an independent, third-party verification service, gives credence to our customers and users.”
The Weather Co. said it was starting to incorporate data similar to that used by Climacell. “The Weather Company has been named the world’s most accurate forecaster since 2010,” the company said in a statement. “Earlier this year, we announced IBM GRAF, a new global weather system that will provide nearly 200% improvement in forecasting resolution for the world, using crowdsourced data from millions of sensors worldwide and in-flight data.”
The day I visited Climacell was bright and sunny–boring from a weather forecasting perspective. So in his demonstrations, Elkabetz zoomed Climacell’s software around the world, at one point showing the temperature and wind speed at individual utility substations in California with a model to predict wildfire risk.
The main play for Climacell is to pitch big industries like utilities, shipping, agriculture, and retail that need accurate weather forecasts to survive. The company’s customers already include airlines like JetBlue and Delta, as well as the U.S. Open tennis tournament. But the company has also designed a consumer app for phones, allowing anyone to take advantage of the company’s more detailed forecasts. The app is in limited distribution but you can sign up to try it here.
Entrepreneurs have increasingly moved into sectors that were once the sole province of governments. Think of Elon Musk’s SpaceX or intelligence collector Palantir. Elkabetz argues weather is the next frontier. “It hasn’t happened, but it will happen–it has to happen,” he says. “It’s the nature of innovation.”
Climacell is still just an upstart startup, however. Today is also the day when Fortune publishes our annual Fortune 500 list. And tech is well represented in 2019, from third-ranked Apple all the way to ON Semiconductor at number 485.
(Update: This story was updated on May 17 with a comment from The Weather Co.)