North Huntingdon native's website points way to stunning sunsets
Interesting things happen when art and science marry.
Amateur photographer Jake DeFlitch, a meteorologist with AccuWeather in State College, knew he had hit on something worth preserving when he came up with the idea of launching a website using a complex algorithm and a color-coded map to predict when and where photographers could capture stunning sunrises and fiery sunsets.
The 22-year-old North Huntingdon native, a 2015 Penn State graduate, turned to a pair of friends — Ben Reppert, a research assistant with Penn State's Department of Meteorology, and Stephen Hallett, a meteorology student with a knack for computer programming — to help bring his idea to fruition.
Late last year, the trio launched SunsetWx. The free, color-coded website that taps the science of weather to predict the quality of sunrise and sunsets across the U.S. in real time, is drawing rave reviews. Users, ranging from photographers and filmmakers to lovers and tour guides, have weighed in on the SunsetWx Facebook page.
“Everyone enjoys a good sunrise or sunset,” said DeFlitch. “We debuted Nov. 18 to the public. On Nov. 22, the sunset was fairly vivid from Philadelphia to New York City, and that's when we got our name out there. Online news magazine Slate.com and Petapixel (a photography blog) reached out to us. We've heard of many different applications for it. There were a lot of aspects we never thought of.”
DeFlitch, who says meteorology is his first love, got hooked on photography while attending Penn State. His photos have appeared in National Geographic, USA Today and on “Good Morning America,” where he interned with meteorologist Ginger Zee in 2014.
He came up with the idea of predicting spectacular sky shows after chasing routine campus photos for Penn State's social media sites.
“I photographed for the university a year and a half, primarily capturing landscape shots or buildings around campus. I'd go for a drive to grab a good sunset. Unfortunately, sometimes it didn't turn out the way I wanted it to be,” DeFlitch said.
He knew the science existed to predict sunsets and had seen countless websites charting the moment of sunrises and sunsets around the world, but neither he nor his collaborators could find a site combining the two.
“We were surprised,” he said.
The team quickly began working to identify the scores of meteorological conditions most relevant to predicting when the sky would light up in an array of stunning colors. They eventually settled on a complex algorithm that weighs a variety of factors, including moisture, air pressure and cloud cover.
“It was a learning process. I was good friends with Ben all through Penn State, and I knew Steve from his programming skills,” DeFlitch said.
For now, the website's sunrise predictions are limited to the U.S. It covers sunsets in the U.S. and Europe, and the team is testing a global function, even as they weigh various options for their fledgling operation.
They're moving slowly and focusing on their priorities — DeFlitch works full-time at AccuWeather. Reppert is a full-time researcher, and Hallert is a full-time student.
There's not a mobile app for predicting breathtaking sunrises and sunsets just yet, but it could well be the team's next horizon, DeFlitch said.
Things tend to get interesting at the intersection of art and science.
Debra Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.