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Researchers ask public to send in snowflake pics in bid to improve snow forecasts

This screenshot image shows smartphone app "Sora Watch," with which users can post and share snowflake and other images. (Photo courtesy of Kentaro Araki, research officer at the Meteorological Research Institute)

TOKYO -- The Japan Meteorological Agency's Meteorological Research Institute is calling on people across Japan to send in their pictures of snowflakes in a bid to utilize the information to improve snow forecasts.

The institute in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, has broadened areas of participation in the project from the Kanto-Koshin region including Tokyo to all of Japan by introducing a special smartphone application. In addition to collecting data from a wide range of areas, the project is also aimed at boosting citizens' interest in the weather.

The shape of snow crystals varies depending on the temperature and moisture content in clouds. The research institute first launched the project in fiscal 2016, soliciting Kanto region residents to send in their snapshots of snowflakes via Twitter and other means. Based on the information collected, the organization studies the features of clouds that bring snow to the Tokyo metropolitan area as part of efforts to enhance the accuracy of snowfall forecasts.

On Jan. 22, 2018, when the Kanto and surrounding regions experienced heavy snowfall, the institute was bombarded with at least 40,000 images of snowflakes. However, as staffers at the facility were manually entering data such as shooting locations, it took a long time before the data could be analyzed.

In the latest image collection drive, the institute has introduced a smartphone app called "Sora Watch" (https://sora-watch.3d-amagumo.com/), with which users can post and share snowflake shots and other weather-related information.

The app allows users to enter basic information necessary for analysis, such as the types of snow crystals, the weather and the amount of snowfall, when submitting images. As the app can automatically record the shooting date, time and locations, data processing efficiency has dramatically improved, according to officials.

App users can also post images of other meteorological phenomenon, such as tornadoes and hailstones, which allows viewers to grasp sudden local weather changes by checking posts by other users.

Kentaro Araki, a researcher at the institute, commented, "I want people to acquire meteorological knowledge that can be useful in disaster prevention while enjoying the changes in the skies."

(Japanese original by Ai Oba, Science & Environment News Department)

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