Jun 2, 2022 - Energy & Environment

First look: Ambitious weather firm takes on new funding, makes bold claims

Illustration of the ocean inside a crystal ball.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Salient Predictions, a new provider of weather intelligence for the energy, agriculture and insurance industries, has raised $5.3 million in a seed funding round.

Why it matters: The startup claims to have developed methods that make its forecasts for sub-seasonal to seasonal time scales about twice as accurate as rival companies and government forecasts.

  • This time window translates to from about two weeks to 52 weeks in advance, and it's a period that is valuable to companies trying to manage already stressed supply chains while facing the increasing onslaught of extreme weather.

The big picture: Salient is a spinoff of the research work of its co-founder and president, Ray Schmitt, a veteran physical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts.

Driving the news: Wireframe Ventures is leading the seed round, and it includes Munich Re Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures and Endeavor8, among others.

  • Salient has been staffing up, having brought on Matt Stein as its CEO. He previously led global business development for Jupiter Intelligence, a large, independent player in the climate intelligence space.
  • It has also hired a head of energy, a chief technology officer and chief product officer in recent months, Stein told Axios.
  • It counts BASF, the chemicals giant, among its handful of early clients.

The intrigue: Schmitt says that Salient's secret sauce comes from tapping into ocean data and knowledge that others have ignored, and that it can spot extreme events, such as the Texas freeze in 2021, 30 days in advance.

  • "I discovered there was basically untapped predictability in ocean variables that the meteorologists just weren't looking at," Schmitt told Axios. "And we're using that to do a better job beyond what you can get with the 10-day weather forecast.
  • "We're using kind of the inertia in the climate system, which a lot of it's in the ocean, the ocean has 1,000 times the heat capacity of the atmosphere and 100,000 times as much water," Schmitt added.

Between the lines: The forecast period Salient focuses on is fraught with scientific difficulty, and is known as a kind of valley of death for weather and climate forecasting, since making big advances in accuracy for this time period has proven difficult. This makes some in the weather industry skeptical of Salient's claims of doing just that.

  • Its website advertises the company as providing the "world's most accurate subseasonal-to-seasonal weather forecasts 2 to 52 weeks in advance."

Yes, but: Instead of single moves that double forecast accuracy, weather and climate forecasting tends to advance along a more linear line, as scientific research and technology evolve.

  • A forecaster at a private weather company, who declined to be named discussing a competitor, said higher commodity prices means that companies are hungry for more weather information, and there likely is demand for what Salient is offering.
  • "However, I have seen many bold claims come and go in this sector for many economic cycles back to the 1990s," they said.
  • Schmitt told Axios the company is "very transparent" with clients about its forecast performance, comparing them with other firms and with government-run computer models and outlooks.
  • "They'll have an easy way to evaluate what we've done," he said. "And usually, we're about twice as accurate."
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