Understory’s Weather Data Tracking Network Is Now Active in 6 Cities

Understory, a weather technology startup based in Madison, WI, has expanded its geographic footprint and named a key customer.

Understory builds weather stations to measure things like wind, temperature, humidity, rain, and hail. It sells weather data to businesses such as insurance company Pacific Specialty—a customer Understory just revealed—and provides data free to consumers.

With the expansion, Understory has stations in six metropolitan areas: new markets Denver, Houston, and Fort Worth, TX, and existing markets Boston, Dallas, and Kansas City, MO.

Understory also tracks the local weather around its Madison headquarters. It has installed equipment on top of the 10-story building where the startup’s offices and machine shop are, but does not operate an entire network of stations in the city.

Understory installs dozens of solar-powered weather stations, each located about two miles apart, in the markets it serves. The Dallas area is home to about 150 of the stations, says Alex Kubicek, co-founder and CEO of Understory. Each station has a sensor about the size of a desk lamp mounted on a 10-foot pole (The company’s name for the sensor is RTi, which stands for “real time.”) Kubicek says stations typically sit on top of flat-roofed commercial buildings and take about 30 minutes to install.

Understory estimates that there are more than 5.7 million homes within two miles of an active station, Kubicek says.

Last week, “the weather station network in Denver showcased its abilities,” he says. “We detected over 4,200 individual hailstones and localized areas with over 2.5-inch hail.”

The startup’s business model involves selling some of the data it collects to businesses, such as Palo Alto, CA-based Pacific Specialty and Madison-based American Family Insurance. Kubicek says his company has been working with Pacific Specialty for some time, but did not make public details about their relationship until recently.

“We’ll be able to better manage hail events, which will improve our accuracy, efficiency, and, most importantly, our customer experience,” says Stann Rose, senior vice president of Pacific Specialty, in a prepared statement.

In addition to insurance, Understory aims to serve industries including agriculture and broadcasting.

Understory was launched in 2012 in the Badger State, but spent its formative years in Massachusetts before returning home. Members of Understory’s founding team are alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Gener8tor, a Wisconsin-based group that runs training programs for entrepreneurs. Understory would later relocate to the Boston area, in part because it received an investment from the hardware venture firm Bolt, which is based in the area and helped Understory secure work space nearby.

Then, in early 2016, the startup raised $7.5 million in a Series A funding round and moved back to Wisconsin. Understory, with 15 employees, has raised about $10 million, Kubicek says. He adds that the company plans to raise additional funding at some point in the future.

Kubicek says Understory is currently looking at 10 more expansion cities, with the Minneapolis/St. Paul area at the top of the list. The next wave of expansion would not occur until after the end of the current storm season, in June, he says.

A large amount of the data that Understory’s weather stations collect is available for free on the startup’s website. After creating an account with an e-mail address and other information, users can see past and current conditions, as well as future forecasts.

One feature—a visualization of wind-speed data over time—is a beautiful mashup of science, engineering, and art. The gusts shoot and swerve, often coming together to make a whirlpool-like pattern, calling to mind Vincent van Gogh’s painting “The Starry Night.”

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Wisconsin. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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