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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: The current weather is really interesting, and I need to tell you more about what's happening. Is there a place for comments?

A: If you need to include more information about your observation, you may contact the project by email.

Q: I'm outside the area shown on your map. Can I still participate?

A: Yes! We are gathering data from all over the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, so feel free to participate.

Q: I'll be at someone else's house during the storm, but I'd still like to enter observations. Is it OK to enter observations on the web from someplace other than my home location?

A: Yes! Any observations that we get are useful to us.

Q: Why do I have to re-enter my coordinates on the web form each time? Can't you simply remember me?

A: We have intentionally kept the database anonymous, so we don't know who has entered the data. We don't use cookies or other identifying technology, so we have no way of knowing who is making an entry at any given time. However, your web browser likely keeps track of this information and will auto-complete the field for you. To be sure though, you might want to save your coordinates in a small text file saved on your desktop and use "copy" and "paste" if auto-completion doesn't work for you.

Q: I need to report intensity of precipitation. How do I do that?

A: Intensity is an interesting problem. For us, "intensity" is best defined as the rate of liquid water equivalent accumulation. So, if it is snowing what is the equivalent rain rate? Visibility has been shown to be poorly correlated with the rate of liquid water accumulation. Without either special snow gauges or lots of work, there's no reliable way to estimate the rate at which water substance is coming down. We'd very much like to get such information but we simply can't rely on intensity estimates by eye.

Q: The precipitation type is changing very rapidly as I drive through the weather/watch out the window/commute to work. But that five-minute timer doesn't allow me to report those changes as quickly as they occur. Can you do something about that?

A: We appreciate your diligence! The short answer is that we will not get a handle on the sorts of time and space scales you (and everyone else) experiences. Our observing systems simply can't provide that sort of time and space scale. So, that scale of variability simply appears as noise to our observing systems, and that's how it appears in PING reports, too. Radars update their volumes only every 5 min and atmospheric analyses are available only every hour. The spatial scales that are observed and represented are much, much larger than the microscale things we see in each others back yard. So, yes the micorscales exist but we cannot accommodate them. Simply report what you see when you can and that will work very well for us.

Q: You left out some categories. I have freezing fog/diamond dust/fog/drizzle mixed with fog/blowing snow/etc. How do I report that?

A: Things like the types mentioned in the question are not "precipitation" for our purposes. Blowing snow isn't precipitation falling so much as it is existing precipitation being moved around by the wind, and blowing snow cannot, for any practical purposes, be detected by the NEXRAD radars. Neither can fog, or ice crystal fog (diamond dust). These are better described as meteorological conditions (like smoke, blowing dust or blowing sand) rather than a precipitation type. While these conditions can pose serious problems for transportation or even people that are outside, because the NEXRAD radars cannot detect them the PING project cannot make use of the information.

Q: I want to use mPING to report thunder/severe weather/tornadoes/floods/trees down/branches down/maximum winds/hurricanes/etc. This would be great! Why doesn't mPING do that?

A: As a U.S. Government NOAA research lab, we have specific research goals to address. mPING was designed as a scientific tool to help us fulfill two very specific applied research missions: winter surface precipitation type and hail occurrence/size. mPING does these two things better than even we could have hoped. All the other weather phenomena are certainly interesting and important and some day someone might develop an app that serves to collect crowdsourced data on all of them. But because mPING is doing precisely what it was intended to do, we don't want to risk compromising the tool we're using by adding something to it that collects data we don't need. So, we will avoid making it more complex or bigger simply because we can.

Winter Precip Questions

Q: What types of wintry precipitation are you interested in?

A: All kinds of wintry precipitation! If it's winter and precipitation is occurring, we're interested. You can read more about the different types of winter precipitation here.

Q: We have snow flurries, instead of snow. Why don't you add those to the list?

A: We don't make a distinction between snow and snow flurries because PING doesn't record intensity. Flurries are a way of expressing intensity and coverage (in both time and space) and so are not included because the intensity we're interested in is liquid equivalent precipitation rate. Liquid equivalent rates in snow and other frozen precipitation types is difficult (at best) to measure and the vast majority of people that report to PING don't have the time or energy to report rates. Rate estimates based on visibility are poorly correlated with the actual rates because visibility is affected by particle size distributions as well as particle concentration. So, simply report snow flurries as snow and we'll be happy.

Severe Weather Precip Questions

Q: What about severe weather? Can I use PING to report that?

A: You can use PING to report hail any time of year. Simply select "Hail" and then select the size of hail and send it to us.

Mobile App and Display Questions

Q: My iPhone zoom doesn't work right on the mobile display page-- it zooms to a black screen/wrong place/crashes the browser. How can that be fixed?

A:  By design, the mobile display zoom is centered on your location. If you're location information isn't being sent, then the zoom function has unpredictable outcomes. Location information may not be sent if you have ever said "no" to a request for location information in your browser, though there could be other causes, such as not enabling the location information within the device. While there may be better ways to fix the problem, it seems a sure-fire method is to use iPhone/iPad reset: press the home and sleep buttons simultaneously and hold until the Apple logo appears, then wait for the device to restart. Then, make sure your location services are enabled.

Q: I'm in a bad location and can't get a GPS lock. My nearest cell tower is miles away, so the location defined for that service is inaccurate. But I know where I am on the map, so why not allow me to simply move the map to my location and set it there?

A: We apologize for the inconvenience and frustration. We chose what we felt was the easiest, least obtrusive interface and approach for these apps. While we could allow the user to select or adjust their location, we felt that doing so would lead to added complexity and for yet another way for mis-reporting, location inaccuracy and outright pranks to make it into the data base. We use the additional network-based location service because, usually, that's good enough. Even with GPS, we treat the typical position accuracy to be no better than a 1 km radius, which is quite sufficient for our purposes. Your situation is admittedly unusual. Even so, for the reasons mentioned above, we won't be changing the app interface. Obviously, if there's a place where you can go that will allow GPS locations, you could send your observations from there. Failing that, you could use the PING web form to submit your observation, though it requires you to know and enter your latitude and longitude and the time of the observation. Once you enter your latitude and longitude, they are usually cached by your browser. If not, simply make a text file to hold these and put it someplace on the desktop. Then, if the cache is emptied, you have the numbers handy for re-entry.

Q: I'm using IE8 or IE9 and the desktop browser display doesn't work right. What do I need to do to fix it?

A: Hang on -- this gets a bit technical.

IE8:

The PING page uses html5/canvas which was not supported in IE8.  IE was the last major browser to adopt html5.  IE8 will not ever be supported by our display because it would require a significant redesign of the entire page.  This is unfortunate, but the story of html5/canvas is similar to other parts of html.  New innovations such as Flash animations or Java applets are pioneered by third party companies and are not originally part of the html standards.  They require separate plug-ins be added to a browser before a user can see them and developers have to jump through even more hoops to be able to author with those tools.  But if the functionality becomes popular enough, there will be a push to move them into the html standards themselves so users don't need a plug-in and it is much easier for developers to include them.  html5/canvas is a way to get some (others might say "all") of the functionality of Flash or Java or Microsoft's own Silverlight moved into the basic html framework.  Understandably, the creators of those original projects, such as Flash or Java or Silverlight are not always happy with the change.

IE9

IE9 supports html5/canvas and so the user should be able to get the PING page to display properly.  However there are at least two user settings that can prevent this.  We are not aware of any method on the developer side to override these settings.  The user will need to fix these themselves.

  1. Compatibility View:  The page will not function under compatibility view (see attached image).  This mode can be set for individual URL domains or globally.  Compatibility sounds good and might lead one to think that it would allow older and newer functionality to work together.  Actually it is more of a "time machine" because it rolls the clock back to IE8 or 7 or 6 and forgets about any progress made in the last few years. "Compatibility view" is really more of an "I wish I had my old browser back" view.
  2. Security set to 'High'.  The html5/canvas support is still there so a little more of the page shows, but this setting shuts off enough javascript to kill the PING page as well.  Backing off the security slider to 'Medium/High' which the menu says is 'Appropriate for most websites' will allow the page to run again.

There may well be other settings that prevent the page from running.  If both of the above are not the issue and it still doesn't work in IE9 we would like to hear about it.  In our testing, those are the only two problem areas found.

We do need to have better error reporting.  We should detect html5/canvas support and if missing, then display a simple error page with polite info on how to get it working.  However, one often detects browser support through some simple javascript so if someone is dead set against javascript and has completely shut it down somehow then that won't work, either.  Unfortunately, we don't have the funding or available expertise to fight a really aggressive battle with the browser zoo that is out there -- there are simply too many other things on our plate.

Q: Where's a version of mPING for Windows phones?

A: So far, we don't have one. We have no in-house expertise with Windows phones, but plan to develop it in the future. Once we do, we will make a Windows version of mPING available.

Q: I'll make you a Windows phone version for free! Oh can I, please?

A: Thanks for the offer! We're very flattered as we have received several of these. The problem we face is that we need to be able to maintain the app once it's released so as to make the inevitable tweaks and adjustments with time that tools like mPING require. Thus, we still have to develop in-house expertise for Windows phones.

If you have any further questions, feel free to contact Dr. Kim Elmore by email at Kim.Elmore@noaa.gov or telephone at (405) 325-6295.