Peng Chi-ming and the Practical Applications of Meteorology

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2018 / September

Lynn Su /photos courtesy of Lin Min-hsuan /tr. by Geof Aberhart


In the past, changes in the weather were largely of concern only to people like farmers and fisher­men whose livelihoods depended on it. Today, though, with climate change leading to extreme weather becoming normal, weather and climate are posing increasingly thorny challenges to the rest of us as well.

As technology advances, new opportunities are opening up in the weather industry in response to growing need. Fifteen years ago, meteorologist Peng Chi-ming founded Taiwan’s first weather-­focused company, Weather­Risk Explore. A decade and a half later, he has successfully opened up new horizons in the climate economy, while also playing the role of missionary, teaching people how to make good use of weather information.

 


 

Meteorologist Peng Chi-ming has a long list of pioneer­ing accomplishments to his name, from drafting Taiwan’s first weather insurance policy and designing weather apps for traditional mobile phones to helping both the government and private companies conduct weather risk assessments. Over the years, he has repeatedly set industry precedents, forging new trails to establish business models for a variety of weather­-related services.

Making a business out of lightning

As a result of climate change, phenomena like smog, dust storms, and lightning strikes have increased in number in recent years. Seeing this trend, Peng predicted business opportunities therein, leading to the development of lightning-focused services.

At first blush lightning strikes may seem like a fairly remote thing to most people, but in reality, they happen much more often than you might imagine. According to records from Tai­power’s lightning detection network, lightning strikes Taiwan some 30,000 times each year. Research from abroad also predicts that by the year 2100, climate change will have led to a 50% increase in lightning strikes worldwide, making a focus on the phenomenon a globally important matter.

About three years ago, Peng set his sights on the lightning strike market, working with Australia’s largest meteorological company, Weather­zone, to jointly create the lightning alert service provider Shan­dian. Rather than the lightning detection systems used by Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau and Tai­power, Shan­dian has set up its own lightning detectors using technology from US-based Earth Networks, whose “Global Lightning Network” brings together data from the world’s largest network of instruments.

The main reason for their choice of this system is that the data it collects can be processed in the cloud and the results received with little to no time delay. Another big reason is that the global nature of the Earth Networks system provides redundancy, with Taiwan, for example, able to make use of data from neighboring regions such as Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Indochina, which in turn benefit from Taiwanese data.

Weather analyst Lee Chih-hang remarks, “Currently we have 11 stations in Taiwan, each of which has a detection range of over 1,000 kilometers, completely covering Taiwan.” To determine the time and location of each lightning flash, each station reads the ­electromagnetic spectrum of the lightning and calculates time and location through the time differences in the arrival of signals at different frequencies across the spectrum. The readings from different detector stations are also cross-checked to ensure higher accuracy.

Prompt warnings to avert disaster

Once the data is collected, the team makes use of various means to convert it into the forms appropriate for the needs of end users. The most basic of these is simply providing a customizable detection interface to give customers timely information on the movement of storm cells and the location and timing of lightning, along with estimated storm duration and radar imaging. This interface can also generate warning notifications to be distributed through mobile messaging apps, radio, and email.

Take Shan­dian’s first customer, the ROC Air Force, for example. While aircraft have nothing to fear from the lightning itself, it indicates the presence of highly variable weather systems, which may bring phenomena like low-level wind shear or microbursts that can have a seri­ous impact on flight safety. The Air Force’s flight safety code stipulates that as soon as a thunderstorm cell enters within an 8-km radius of an airbase, contingency procedures must be enacted.

Although lightning detection is a fairly new technology and awareness of the risks of lightning strikes is still not widespread in Taiwan, the technology nonetheless has tremendous potential in a wide range of possible applications, from transportation and shipping through tourism and amusement parks to engineering and construction.

In addition to growing his business, Peng Chi-ming also hopes to boost public awareness of lightning risk. After all, while the probability of a strike is low, when it does happen, it can cause irreversible damage and even casualties. If we are alert enough to the risks, though, we can avoid the vast majority of accidents.

Popularizing meteorology

As the company’s business began to boom, Peng’s own fame skyrocketed with it. Nicknamed “the weather master,” he is often the go-to man for any number of meteorological queries, from what the weather will be like at a particular place and time to addressing rumors going around online. It can be exhausting, but as a professional meteorologist, Peng feels a certain sense of responsibility to ensure people are getting the right information. After all, if it isn’t coming from him, who else might it be coming from?

As Peng says, “meteorology is the science most directly relevant to people’s daily lives.” As such, with an eye toward younger readers, he released a picture book called 100 Questions About the Weather.

His motivation for writing the book was not to make money, but rather his sense of responsibility as a meteor­ologist to popularize the science and educate the public. There is no shortage of books about meteorology on the market, but most are aimed at adult readers. There are a few books for children that have been translated from Japanese, but with climate phenomena so dependent on geography, these books just can’t meet the needs of a Taiwanese audience.

Why is the sky blue? How do typhoons form? Why aren’t there tornadoes in Taiwan? Before there were satellites and computers, how did people predict the weather? 100 Questions About the Weather collects 100 questions of interest to children. “The book also addresses some phenomena particular to Taiwan, like the powerful “katabatic” downslope winds of Heng­chun or the hot, dry foehn winds of Tai­tung, making it a bit more local,” says weather presenter Cindy Jian. All of the topics the book addresses are gone over step by step with illustrations.

Diverse development, international energy

Although it has been over a decade since the 2004 amendment of the Meteorological Act opened up weather forecasting to the private sector, the industry still faces many challenges in its development. However, Peng has remained committed, constantly forging new paths and developing a diverse array of business options beyond basic weather forecasting.

For example, with public awareness of weather risks still lacking, his team must educate at the same time as it promotes its business. The company can’t wait for traditional media to change how they operate, and so has taken to using online media and livestreaming, efforts that have been especially well received by the younger generation.

On top of its lightning service, the company has also expanded into wind power, working with Weatherzone on an offshore project set to begin construction in 2019. Integrating domestic and international maritime weather forecasting, the company has designed a custom decision­-making system for windfarms, reducing the potential for losses and delays caused by incorrect construction scheduling. With regard to smog and air quality forecasting, not only does the company produce video forecasts, it also works with local government environmental agencies to issue air quality warnings. From such efforts, we can see the diversity and potential in the weather industry.

And as the weather industry is at its core an open-­data-based part of the information economy, outside of his work Peng Chi-ming is also active in promoting open data to Taiwan’s government. He even serves as chair of the Open Data Alliance and works closely with comrades in nine Asian countries, including Japan, South Korea, and Thailand, to similar ends.

“Openness of data is a universal value, and with the weather industry both part of the information economy and an industry Taiwan is doing quite well in, it gives us a lot of soft power and room to grow,” says Peng optimistically.

As a new kind of information-based industry that truly shares data from the private sector with the people, the weather industry, with Peng at its head, really does have the potential to both contribute to society and drive Taiwan forward.

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繁體中文

窺天象,創商機

文‧蘇俐穎 圖‧林旻萱

在過去,只有「靠天吃飯」的農民、漁民,會隨著天氣變化或悲或喜,不過,隨著氣候變遷加劇,極端氣候常態化,氣象,讓人越來越「有感」,也讓人倍覺束手無策。

氣象產業,是伴隨著科技進步崛起,也是因應時代需求而起的新創產業。15年前,氣象專家彭啟明,率先成立台灣第一家氣象公司「天氣風險管理開發公司」,15年後,他成功開拓出氣候經濟的新藍海,也以傳教士之姿,教人善用氣象資訊。

 


 

訂定台灣第一張天氣保單、為傳統手機設計氣象應用程式、幫助政府與民間企業作天氣風險評估……這些,都是彭啟明的創舉。多年下來,在沒有前例可供依循的情況下,他屢開產業先例,建立各種天氣服務的商業模式。

落雷增加,閃電也是一門生意

 「一間企業的格局,不可能5年、10年都是一樣的。」彭啟明這樣說。隨著氣候變遷影響,近年霧霾、沙塵暴、雷擊等特殊氣象不斷增加,他從趨勢變化預見商機,投入開拓以「雷擊」為主的服務。

雖然雷擊,乍聽離一般人似乎很遙遠,但發生機率卻遠比我們想像中來得高上許多。根據台電的閃電監測網紀錄,台灣每年有高達3萬次左右的雷擊,國外研究報告也指出,隨著氣候變異,2100年時,全世界的雷擊將會增加50%,對雷擊的重視,舉世皆然。

不過,由於雷擊事件通常是個案,加上台灣民間咸信,人會被雷劈,是由於為非作歹,並不光采,故雷擊事件雖然常造成嚴重的傷亡,卻沒有受到相對的重視。

約莫三年前,彭啟明瞄準雷擊的市場,與澳洲最大的氣象公司Weatherzone創辦人Mark Hardy,共同成立以閃電預警服務為主的新公司「兆燿」。捨台灣現有的中央氣象局與台電的閃電監測系統,採用全球最大,連美國國家海洋暨大氣總署、美國太空總署也使用的「全球閃電觀測網」(Earth Networks Global Lightning Network),從架設儀器開始,擷取所需的數據資料。

之所以選擇這套系統,一來是由於,系統蒐集到的數據,可全數透過雲端作計算,沒有時間延遲的問題;二來,全球性的系統可彼此支援,好比台灣同時可延伸到香港、菲律賓、中南半島等地區,等同加入全球性的網絡。

天氣分析師李知航說:「目前我們在台灣共有11個站點,每個站點的偵測距離超過1,000公里,可以完整地包覆台灣。」監測站運用「到達時間差定位法」,藉由在第一時間讀取每一道閃電的波譜頻率,再從讀取的時間差,推斷確切發生的時間、地點,同時藉由多個站點讀取到的資訊交叉比對,藉此提高準確性。

即時預警,避險降災損

蒐集到資訊以後,團隊輔以各種管道,將觀測資訊轉化成終端使用者需要的形式,依其需求作應用。最基本的,便是提供專屬的監控介面,讓客戶在第一時間掌握雷雨胞與閃電發生的時間、地點、預計持續的時間、雷達回波等相關資訊,甚至生成即時的警報推播,透過Line、廣播、電子郵件作預警。

以兆燿的第一個客戶「中華民國空軍」為例。飛機雖不怕雷擊,但打雷意味著存在著劇烈變化的天氣系統,好比低空風切、微爆氣流等特殊氣象,將會嚴重影響飛安。空軍飛航安全守則也規定,只要有雷雨胞移進機場8公里以內,便得開始相關應變程。

又好比設置在空曠地區的摩天輪、纜車,雷擊雖不至於危及乘客,但可能造成系統停擺,引起諸多不便,因此,台北捷運公司也將這套系統應用在貓空纜車上,一旦接獲通知,就會開始準備撤離遊客、暫停營運。李知航強調:「行控中心的警報都是即時的,不會有任何延遲,而且雷雨定位相當精準。」

高科技公司也是兆燿亟待開發的目標客戶。多數科技公司的廠房均已裝設避雷措施,但打雷會造成電壓下降,進而影響產品品質與良率,若能提前預警,就能提前關閉設備,藉此降低風險。

雖然閃電監測是一套相當新的技術,雷擊的風險意識在台灣也尚未普及,但可供應用的領域,遍及交通運輸、觀光遊樂園區、工程營建等不同層面,發展潛力相當高。

推廣業務以外,彭啟明也希望能藉此提高大眾對於雷擊的風險意識,畢竟,雷擊事件就像飛安事件,發生機率雖低,一旦發生,卻往往造成不可逆的重大傷亡,但只要有所警覺,絕大多數的意外,都可以事前預防。

科普推廣,回歸生活的大氣科學

隨著公司業務蒸蒸日上,彭啟明的知名度也扶搖直上,被封為「氣象達人」的他,時常得面對各方蜂擁而至的氣象諮詢,小至特定時間、地點的天候狀況,或者是為網路謠傳闢謠,讓他不無慨歎:「社會一直在進步,氣象科學也是,但大多數人的氣象知識,似乎都停留在國中階段。」加上身為專業氣象人,對於傳播正確的氣象知識,總有一份捨我其誰的職責,讓他總不忘為推廣氣象科普知識盡上一份心。

雖然,氣象學是一門結合大氣科學、物理學、化學、海洋學等多重領域的專業,但長年播報氣象,對他來說,要將冷硬的數據資訊,轉換成一般人能理解且感興趣的語言,在長年的經驗累積之下,早已是駕輕就熟。

就像彭啟明所說的:「氣象,是所有科學中最貼近人的。」在過去,他就曾與命理師李咸陽、文化創意人洪震宇合著《樂活國民曆》,開本土二十四節氣的風氣,由文化、生活的角度重詮氣象資訊;公司也承接行政院環保署委託,編寫《氣候變遷圖解小百科》,以通俗的語言,講解艱澀的氣候議題。今年,他再度有創舉,鎖定兒童的讀者群,推出繪本《天氣100問》。

投入寫書,主要並不是出於營利考量,而是身為氣象人,對於大眾科普教育的責任感。參與撰書的氣象主播簡瑋靚便表示,除了一般人對於氣象風險管理需要再教育,兒童對於每日的天氣變化有疑問,卻沒有一本可供解答的專書。

加上圖書市場上不乏氣象科普書籍,但主要以一般成人讀者來考量;也有來自日本來的翻譯書,但氣候現象會因地制宜,無法顧及台灣讀者的需求。

天空為什麼是藍色?颱風是怎麼形成的?台灣有沒有龍捲風?古人沒有氣象衛星與電腦,該怎麼預測天氣?……《天氣100問》廣蒐100個兒童感興趣的問題,簡瑋靚說:「這本書裡有一些獨特的台灣天氣現象,像落山風、焚風,將內容在地化。」再透過圖文並茂的形式逐一解答。

多元發展,連結國際能量

自從2004年《氣象法》修正,開放民間氣象預報,十多年以後,氣象產業的發展條件仍面臨諸多挑戰。不過,一路走來,彭啟明不斷另闢蹊徑,在最基礎的氣象預報以外,多元發展,走出事業的一片天。

由於民間對於氣象風險的意識仍嫌不足,團隊在推廣業務之餘,便得同時肩負教育之責;等不到傳統媒體在播報方式上的變革,索性活用網路媒體與直播的方式,好比與雅虎合作的「一分鐘氣象」,或者融合氣候議題、來賓專訪的「彭博士觀風象」等節目,尤其受年輕族群好評。

除了近年推出的閃電服務之外,公司也將業務觸角拓展至風力發電,與Weatherzone合作,為了明(2019)年即將施工的離岸風電,整合國內海氣象預報,客製化設計風場的決策系統,用以降低因錯誤施工排程所造成的損失與工程延宕的機率;又或針對霧霾的現象製作空氣品質預報,除了錄製預報影片,也積極與縣市政府環保局合作,針對空氣品質的情況預警……種種嘗試,讓人看見氣象產業的多元與發展潛力。

除了對氣象的熱忱,推動彭啟明往前的,更是一份使命感。他不侷限服務台灣客戶,更關注環境議題,積極與國際連結,主動參與世界氣象組織(WMO)、聯合國氣候變遷會議(COP)等。

事實上,台灣也是發展氣象產業很好的立足地,「台灣的天氣變化很劇烈,變化越多,需要我們的地方就越多。」彭啟明說。即便鄰近的香港、新加坡、菲律賓等國家,也沒有氣象公司存在,更遑論今日的「天氣風險管理開發公司」,已是一間擁有約60名員工,年營業額超過1億元的公司,在亞洲的表現堪稱亮眼。

由於氣象產業是一種開放資料(Open data)為核心的資料經濟產業,工作之餘,彭啟明也積極敦促台灣政府開放資料,甚至擔任Open Data聯盟(Open Data Alliance,簡稱ODA)主席,串連日、韓、泰國等9個亞洲國家的力量,彼此互通聲氣。

「開放資料是普世價值,氣象產業也是資料經濟的一種,加上台灣做得相對不錯,也提供我們軟實力很好的發展空間。」彭啟明樂觀地表示。

畢竟,氣象產業是資料經濟的一種,也是真正取之於民、以共享為核心訴求的新型產業,他將個人事業化成對社會的貢獻,推動台灣往前。

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