Stormy Weather

Betaworks Launches Weather Service Because Let’s Face It, You’re No Meteorologist

None of us gets what difference humidity makes.
Brb, running to the Warby Parker store. (Photo: Screencap)

Brb, running to the Warby Parker store. (Photo: Screencap)

Do unexpectedly blustery days leave you wailing at the fates? Sick of dressing in your smartest spring sandals, only to walk outside and discover there’s still a nip in the air?

So are the folks at Betaworks, apparently.

And now, a small team led by hacker-in-residence Kuan Huang has dreamed up Poncho, a new weather service launching today for New York City. It promises to deliver a personalized forecast that’ll help you figure out whether you can really get by with just a cardigan.

Mr. Huang told Betabeat that the idea was born as “something for my personal use.” He wanted an interpreter for the forecast, who could tell him, “It’s 46 degrees, windy; you should wear a scarf.” He admitted it’s “a pain point I have in my life.” You and me both, buddy.

Entrepreneur-in-residence Paul Murphy said, “It’s this weird thing where, as tech’s gotten more advanced, it’s almost like we’ve gone back in time.” There’s more data than ever, but amateurs like you and me are left trying to read satellite imagery.

“I just want someone to tell me if I need an umbrella cause its going to rain at 5 when I walk home from the work,” Mr. Murphy added, somewhat plaintively.

The site says, “Poncho explains the weather in plain, clear English — just like weather forecasters used to do.” When you sign up, you answer a series of questions: Do you have pets that have to be walked? Do you exercise outside? Do you have pollen allergies? What subway to you take to work, and what time? The result is a forecast that boils the outlook into a simple summary, delivered bright and early by email or text message (your choice).

Appropriately, there’s more than HAL 9000 doling out the advice. In addition to the technology handling the real-time data, “we also have a human who lives in New York City who goes outside and provides the human element to the weather and they influence the data.” He added, “When it feels really cold out, they can add that context.” Mr. Murphy said pilot users are abandoning the iPhone’s default weather feature in favor of Poncho.

The service is currently limited to New York City, but Mr. Huang says over the next few weeks they’ll take a look at their waiting list and see which zip codes have the most demand.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com