The Van Trump Report

Weather Startup Predicts Midwest Rainfall by Measuring Salt in the Ocean

Weather has always been one of farming’s biggest enemies and with changing climate patterns bringing ever more extremes, the need to know what lies around the next corner seems ever more urgent. Most meteorologists say anything beyond a seven-to-ten day forecast is hard to trust but a startup out of Boston called “Salient Predictions” claims its weather technology can predict how much rain will fall in the Midwest as far out as three months out by measuring ocean salinity levels.

Founded in 2019, Salient claims to have the world’s most accurate subseasonal-to-seasonal (S2S) weather forecasts, which are 3-week to 3-month weather predictions. Oceanographer Ray Schmitt co-founded Salient off the back of a unique rainfall prediction technique he honed while working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Massachusetts. Unlike most weather models that base seasonal forecasts on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), his method uses salinity in the ocean as a rain gauge.  

Schmitt said the idea struck him in 1993 after the Mississippi and Missouri River floods. Following seven months of flooding of the region, he noticed reports of abnormally low salinity in the Gulf of Mexico and Gulf Stream. That’s when it occurred to him that a large region of the ocean had to lose fresh water to evaporation in order to supply the flood on land. In turn, that evaporation would have to make the surface ocean saltier than normal. “With that basic concept in mind, I began looking at high-salinity areas of the ocean to see if variations in salinity could be used to predict rainfall.”

Later research proved that summer rains in the Midwest correlated with springtime salinity in the western North Atlantic. This meant that if the waters from Cape Cod, Massachussetts, to the Gulf of Mexico were saltier than normal in the spring, the Midwest would see summer flooding. “The prediction turned out to be quite accurate—there was severe flooding in Indiana and water levels in the Great Lakes were restored after a long drought,” said Schmitt.

In 2016, he teamed with his sons Eric and Stephen—engineers with an interest in machine learning—to enter the US Bureau of Reclamation’s S2S Forecast Rodeo. After a full year of competitive forecasting, Schmitt and his sons beat out all other competitors in the rainfall forecasting category, laying the foundation for Salient Predictions.

Salient and BASF teamed up in 2021 to provide BASF customers with long-range, seasonal weather forecasting data. Earlier this year, they closed a $5.4 million seed funding round and also launched a suite of new weather metrics designed to provide large agribusiness and food producers with data to make faster, smarter decisions. Salient has more information available at their website HERE.

1 thought on “Weather Startup Predicts Midwest Rainfall by Measuring Salt in the Ocean”

  1. I work for Salient Predictions (leading agriculture related efforts). Wanted to leave a quick note here and encourage people to reach out if they’re interested in having a conversation. Nothing we do is perfect, but we’re interested in collaborating and exploring how we can help people better run their businesses. We see all the messages that come in through the website’s “contact us” form. We try to respond quickly to everyone! Thank you.

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