Weather maps in the Middle East tend to be pretty dull most of the year. Just lots of images of balls of sunlight looming over the region, with only the temperature changing to reflect the move from the searing heat of summer to the refreshing cool of winter.
A rain cloud might thrust its way on to the map of the Arabian Gulf maybe three or four times a year, but apart from that it is pretty much sun all the way, the maps would have you believe.
Except that is not actually how it is, says Mohammed Al Shaker, the founder and chief executive of ArabiaWeather.
“Arab weather is hyperlocal and can vary quite dramatically in just a few kilometres. Extratropical weather zones [the kind of climatic conditions prevalent over most of the Middle East] produce this kind of weather. Have you ever wondered why in the newspapers local weather is always sunny?
“It’s because they don’t look at the local weather, just the general overall picture.
“In Saudi Arabia in particular, the climatic variations are very big. On the same day you can have rain, thunder and lightning, and bright sunshine all in the same picture,” he says with all the enthusiasm of a lifetime of studying meteorology, and now making a living out of it.
The success of ArabiaWeather is proof that there is a good deal more variety to the climate in the region than you might think. The website is one of the most heavily accessed in the region, with about 40 million unique users. It has a growing business serving clients in the wider world who need accurate and reliable forecasting.
“It’s all about accurate data gathering, from a number of official sources around the world such as the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts, UK Met Office and the Global Forecast System. All weather forecasting depends on these, but we aggregate and process them using our own algorithms and data from our own weather stations.
“We can customise them for partners and clients who want specialist weather information, such as airlines or shipping companies. We are all dependent on the weather, but some businesses need critical specialist information faster and more frequently,” says Mr Al Shaker.
The company, which started in Jordan in 2006, has injected another layer of sophistication to its data-gathering process with the use of its own weather stations, of which there are 100 around Jordan, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, each giving climatic data from its own location. It gives a fine level of detail to the local weather.
“We have a high level of accuracy. Our displays are produced to a high level of resolution, so you can literally zoom in and see what the weather will be like in Dubai Media City, for example. So we do not produce weather forecasts for Dubai but for Jumeirah, or Deira, or Media City,” says Mr Al Shaker.
These forecasts are the essential content for ArabiaWeather’s main products – the website and the mobile app.
The extras are bolted on to that core offering. “Then we have a weather news reporting team, which is supported by information from the weather stations and through our own form of crowd sourcing with reports and photos filed through the app. And we offer relationship forecasting, where we give health and lifestyle advice. For example, if the user has a history of asthma we can advise what precautions to take in different weather conditions,” he says.
There is great potential in the business-to-business sector, Mr Al Shaker believes.
“Basically anybody who uses the skies, the land or the seas for their business is a potential customer,” he says jokingly. “So that covers the transport, logistics and insurance businesses, as well as the oil and gas industries, shipping and airports. Royal Jordanian Airlines was an early client.”
Agriculture and retail industries too.
“People’s buying habits will change according to the weather. For example, some car manufacturers have started selling convertible cars at certain times of year with guarantees the weather will be suitable for them. Weather patterns can significantly affects the performance of financial markets too,” he adds.
The media industry is also a customer. “Media companies can outsource all their weather content to us. Several media broadcasting organisations in Abu Dhabi and Dubai do this already, as well as other big regional media players. It is the integrated solution made for the clients that differentiates us,” he says.
The company raised US$5 million in a new round of funding in November, attracting some big investment names, after a $2m fund-raising earlier last year.
Mr Al Shaker said at the time: “We are happy with the continued growth of our consumer-focused properties and we will continue to serve our millions of users with the most accurate and informative weather forecasts and content by enhancing our mobile offerings and expanding our original video content. We are also extremely excited to continue working with some of the region’s leading enterprises and to provide them with cutting-edge weather products and services.
“We are expanding our regional sales presence and have a range of exciting products in our pipeline, which we will introduce to the market very soon,” he said.
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