Dutch-Australian Duo Win Top Meteorology Prize for Citizen Science Statistics Project

Wind gusts create significant problems, such as knocking down power lines or trees, or blowing embers causing a bush fire to spread quickly. Adding to the problem is that wind gusts often occur in small areas not observed by traditional weather stations as these stations are separated by large distances. 

But what if meteorologists could tap into the power of citizen science to fill in the gaps where there are no weather stations and get critical wind gust data? That is the aim of new research being led by QUT statistician Dr Kate Saunders and Dr Kirien Whan from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI). 


Dr Kate Saunders (left) and Dr Kirien Whan in 2019 at the climate march in the Netherlands

Their project, called "Second wind: Extending the official wind gust record with citizen science observations," just won the Harry Otten Prize for Innovation in Meteorology. The European Meteorological Society recently announced the award at its annual meeting. 

"Winning the Harry Otten prize means that we can make a significant contribution to the field of meteorology," says Kate, an ACEMS Associate Investigator at QUT's Centre for Data Science. 

"The idea of Second Wind is to extend and complement official wind gust data with those collected by amateur scientists. Until now, though, crowd-sourced wind observations have traditionally been seen as having poor quality, so they have not been used in any way." 

To change that, Kate and Kirien seek to develop new statistical methods to quality control data and to integrate the data with the official networks. 

"A wealth of additional observations are available from personal weather stations. With the right statistical methods, we can assess the quality of those observations and demonstrate their potential value for applications in meteorology and climate and energy forecasting," says Kate. 

In 2018, seven of every eight weather warnings issued by the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society involved extreme wind gusts. 

"This project will allow us to obtain more data about wind gusts from amateur scientists and, using this data, provide a means to help produce earlier and more accurate weather warnings for the public," says Kate. 

Kate and Kirien credit Master's Research student Jieyu Chen for helping kickstart the project with some ground-breaking work on quality control of crowd-sourced wind speed observations. They will soon advertise another Masters' scholarship to work on the project with their first prize award of €25,000, or nearly AUD$40,000. 

"So if you have a passion for statistics and climate, please get in touch. It promises to be an interesting project," says Kate.