Winter Is Here: Parking Apps, Frost Alerts, and Smartphones

There are a few phrases in the English language that signify something epic: tallest mountain, deepest ocean, hottest desert, most hot dogs eaten. When you hear these, you know that you are dealing with the far edges of imagination. This week, we’ve learned that we can add to this, as a powerful lake effect storm is threatening snowfall records in Buffalo. You know that the phrase “Buffalo’s biggest snowfall” is something extreme, and you wonder how you would handle it.

Well, most people won’t have to deal with 70 inches of snow (I am almost crying just typing that). The lake effect only hits the lucky few. But except for a few parts of the country, we’re all going to have to accept that winter is not just coming, but is already here. All 50 states saw freezing temperatures this week, so chances are you’ll have some cold, whether you are used to it or not. Luckily, a screwy climate has developed nearly in tandem with the rise of smartphones and mobile tech, and those combined with the internet of things can help to make winter more manageable, if not exactly fun.

Parking apps
You might need an earlier wake-up call if your car looks like this.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Waking up with time to shovel

If you live in a cold-weather area, you know the feeling of waking up, coming into consciousness through a cloud of warm dreams and a veil of thick blankets, and hearing a disturbing sound interfering with the last vestiges of peace. That repetitive skritttch of a shovel, or even worse, the roar of a snowblower, letting you know that it came down last night. You look over at the clock, and realize that you are waking up too late to clear off your car, warm it up, maybe shovel yourself out, and still get to work on time. It’s a horrible feeling, and really the only response is to curl back into bed. But there are only so many days you can do that.

For other days, you can employ the Winter Wake Up, good for both Android and iOS phones. This is an app that reads the weather and knows when it snows, or even when there is a frost in your area that will delay your commute, and it will wake you up earlier so you can deal with it. Granted, that might not be the most pleasant way to wake up, but it is better than the dread of dealing with winter and running late.

Weather Watchers and connectivity make sure that you aren’t caught off-guard

What the Winter Wake Up does is a mild, though very practical, example of geo-targeting. We’ve talked about how geo-targeting can help in extreme weather by letting you know very specifically if something is coming your way. With new technology, we can take that to an even higher level.

For example, imagine that you are driving and your smartphone (or bluetooth enabled and connected device in your car) lets you know that there is some danger coming your way: a snowstorm, flooded roads, a huge traffic jam that can get ugly (remember, traffic jams during heavy snow can be very dangerous as cars can get completely trapped). But imagine that a weather alert not only goes off, but also provides you with instant rerouting information, and even steers you to the best places to go to ride out the storm. The connectivity inherent in our devices will soon allow this to happen. You can send a message to your family that you are staying at X location, all while getting directions there and avoiding the worst traffic and danger. Hotels can even offer instant booking information if people need to stay the night somewhere.

Basically, how it would go looks like this: you’re driving, and get a message that the road is closed up ahead due to heavy snow, and that there is a traffic jam. Your phone connects to see what area hotels have room, and book you a spot if needed. You get off the road before you hit the rough spot, and arrive warm, and, most importantly, safe at your destination.

Finding a spot becomes easier with parking apps

After the drama of the last entry, finding a parking spot seems at best like small beer. But to anyone who has had the headache of driving around looking for spots in a snowy area, when they’ve been reduced by plowing, made more difficult by “dibs” (a Chicago tradition), and just overall more frustrating by tricky conditions, finding a spot can seem like life and death.

Well, help has come, thanks to your smartphone and crowdsourcing. Crowdsourced apps helps locate spots, and your phone can guide you to them. This is one of those “tipping point” technologies where if no one uses it then it doesn’t work, but once it reaches a threshold, it become indispensable. Even more than that, though, if cities get involved and have smart spots connected to the Internet of Things, as some cities have begun to do, then you don’t need crowdsourcing. The spots will reveal themselves when they are open and when they expect to be free.

There are some cities that are using mobile tech and the Internet of Things to make life easier in the winter – parking is just part of that. Chicago, which has seen mayors booted due to poor snow response, is using smart technology to, among other things, figure out the best way to store, maintain, and distribute salt during the winter months. Running out, or using it in places where it isn’t needed, can be political (and sometimes tragically real) death.

So apps won’t make the snow go away, and we can just keep expecting more extreme weather. But with smartphones, mobile technology, and the cooperation of progressive, forward-minded politicians, we can maybe mitigate the worst of it. Still, I recommend staying inside.

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