Weather app for truckers inspired by the driver’s near-death experience

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In 2014, Paxton Calvanese launched a unique aviation weather app called Wx24 Pilot. In the years that followed, he developed a similar road weather app called Drive Weather. With constant improvements and updates, it is now a popular tool for truckers.

Calvanese likes to hear positive feedback. Some truckers told him it was life changing. “It probably saved a life or two somewhere along the way,” he said.

Perhaps that’s a fitting reward, considering Calvanese’s own near-death experience was the motivation behind creating the initial app.

how it started

Eight years ago, just after Calvanese earned his private pilot’s license, he endured a difficult flight that shook him to his core.

Calvanese was taking her children, then 7 and 12, on a flight from their home in Chicago to Badlands National Park in western South Dakota. They had planned to stay there for about a week.

Calvanese checked the weather forecast for the entire flight plan. Everything pointed to clear conditions.

“It should have been an easy flight,” Calvanese told FreightWaves.

He decided to use what pilots call visual flight rules, or VFR, which means he could rely on what he saw through the windshield rather than looking at the instrument panel. . Calvanese thought this would make the trip more relaxing. This is common practice under clear skies.

Over Iowa, sailing at about 8,000 feet, he saw an unexpected cloud layer on the horizon.

“As I get closer I have a decision to make,” Calvanese said. “It’s going to be about 20 minutes before I hit that. Am I going above or below? »

He knew he would have more time to correct if he was higher and above the clouds. But then, if there was an airport below, he would have to call the airport, make special statements, possibly change his flight plan, etc.

A novice at the time, he didn’t yet have the confidence to perform all of this in the air.

“So, I decided to go below. Because at least if I go under the cloud layer, I could see the ground. I could land anywhere. There would be no problem. I would be safe,” Calvanese explained.

But turbulence suddenly caused it to fall into the clouds and everything went white. Then it dived below clouds to less than 1,000 feet.

“Now I’m starting to sweat a bit,” Calvanese recalled. “I can see well below, but it keeps pushing me lower.”

According to his training, he tried to turn around to escape the situation, but he couldn’t. Worried about hitting a radio or cellphone tower, Calvanese switched to instrument flight rules, or IFR, to level his bank — which he didn’t realize was off by 30 to 40 degrees.

If it is not level when at ground level, the aircraft could stall. He leveled off and was answered by air traffic control above the clouds.

To his relief, the sun hit him in the eye.

Her children had no idea anything unusual was going on. About 20 minutes passed between when Calvanese realized he was in trouble and when he was out of danger.

“Literally, my kids were looking at their iPads, probably looking at ‘Madagascar 2’ or something,” Calvanese said.

He was still shaken for a while before landing at a small airport in eastern South Dakota to regroup. Calvanese told his kids he just needed a break.

realize a vision

Fueled by his in-flight dread, the former computer consultant and software developer had a vision: to create a simple yet reliable aviation weather app that would allow private pilots to quickly make go/no-go decisions.

He wanted himself and other pilots to feel more confident in flight and saw no application at the time that could handle these situations.

“You have to calculate where you will be at each stage. You have to watch the weather forecast there. Next, you need to consider time zones. Give him some leeway,” Calvanese explained.

“You might be slower or faster than the time you expect to get there, so you kind of have to anticipate a bit. And the more you go out, the more you have to watch the weather.

So he spent about a year and a good chunk of his money developing Wx24 Pilot, which simplifies the process of reading aviation weather reports by visually consolidating terminal area forecasts (TAFs) and other weather data on a single screen. The information is displayed in a circular format representing a 24-hour clock.

“If I want to keep flying, I have to create this app. I don’t want to risk it. I had this vision. I knew it would solve the problem,” Calvanese said.

Wx24 Pilot was released in late 2014, followed by changes and additional features. As far as Calvanese knows, it was the only weather aviation application at the time with a graphical interface that could take the process of checking the weather and doing calculations along a potentially changing flight plan up to a few seconds away.

Drive Weather is born

Due to family obligations and exhaustion from promoting Wx24 Pilot – Calvanese never thought of himself as a salesman or salesman, but rather an inventor – he eventually cut his flight time short. He then discovered that there were many more drivers than pilots in the world.

So he took the Wx24 Pilot and developed it, envisioning a road weather app for truckers that would provide a high level of situational awareness.

“For a consumer app, it needed to be smooth and easy,” Calvaese said.

He designed Drive Weather so truckers could enter their destinations and any stops they wanted to make along the way. The app then displays weather forecasts at the predicted times that drivers would arrive at each point of the trip, automatically updating the forecast and starting points.

It took about a year to develop the app, which launched in late 2019 in the United States. Calvanese changed the look and logo to reflect road maps and the new name, as well as removing aviation jargon. He said it was a tough sell at first with so many other road weather apps on the market, but there was something unique about his.

The app allows truckers to compare routes and uses a high-resolution screen, which means the app collects observations from a large number of weather stations, limiting data gaps. It also contains an algorithm to determine when roads may become icy based on atmospheric conditions, and there is an option to adjust travel speed for more accurate weather forecasts.

“It’s really perfect now,” Cavanese said. “It works well and people love it. This is a huge victory for me. »

According to Calvanese, the app had 55,000 downloads and 3,500 new subscriptions in 2020, 200,000 downloads and 15,000 new subscriptions in 2021, and 120,000 downloads and 10,000 new subscriptions at the end of April this year.

It was also a huge win for Jeremy Parratt, who found the app while doing a Google search. He noticed that most other road weather apps were specific to cars or RVs. He downloaded a few intended for truckers, but found them cumbersome. Drive Weather was exactly what he was looking for.

Parratt is a line trucker for Old Dominion Freight Line, and he regularly drives in changeable weather on Interstate 70 between Kansas City, Kansas and Denver. He has been using Drive Weather exclusively for a few months. He told FreightWaves it was a game-changer for him.

“Even in February and March we had some pretty crazy snowstorms coming up, black ice conditions, things like that,” Parratt said.

One of his favorite features is the recently added gust forecast, as he often has to drive empty trailers back to his base in Kansas City. Knowing when and where the conditions will be gusty along its route can prevent it from rolling over.

“If I’m driving in a sustained 30 mph wind, I know it’s still going to be there,” Parratt explained. “But when you’re talking about gusts, you jump on top of a hill and you’re pretty relaxed and you’re holding on with one hand and all of a sudden you’re hit with a 50 mile per hour gust, it attracts your attention very quickly.

That came in handy last week when he left Denver around 5:30 a.m. MT with two empty 28-foot trailers. Forecasts on Drive Weather called for gusts of up to 50 mph from noon around the midpoint of WaKeeney, Kansas.

“I knew that since I could use the slide calculator on the app, if I leave at 5:30 a.m. I will be in WaKeeney at 9:30 a.m. and after WaKeeney a few hours at noon, so I will be well beyond the high wind warnings” , Parratt said.

He said the app has saved him time and money, and his family believes in it too.

“My wife knows that I use this app and check this app a lot. So it gives my family peace of mind knowing that I’ve already checked and the weather is going to be good, so they don’t don’t have to worry about me going out in crazy weather,” Parratt said.

Drive Weather then launched in Canada around mid-April. It is primarily a tool for drivers, but an API is available for dispatchers.

Where are things now

Calvanese is happy with how Drive Weather turned out. He said it was worth the time and money – around $300,000 to $400,000 to develop the two apps. He receives emails from truckers almost every week.

“They are super excited about it. They appreciate that I did. They tell me how it saved them,” Calvanese recalled.

Calvanese said a company that recently expressed interest in acquiring the app gave it the typical valuation formula. But after a lot of hard work and hundreds of thousands of dollars, it wasn’t about to sell.

“Before he even finished, I said, ‘This is worth nothing to me. I do not care. You do not understand. I’m not trading those emails for the number you’re going to throw at me,” Calvanese said.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin

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