'U' alums sell Weather Underground to the Weather Channel

By Steve Zoski, Daily News Editor
Published July 3, 2012

The second of two groups named Weather Underground that originated at the University has been sold after 17 years of independence.

Today, Ann Arbor-based weather company Weather Underground announced that they have been sold to The Weather Channel —owned by NBC Universal, Bain Capital and The Blackstone Group — for an undisclosed price.

In the early 1990s, the company was founded by University alum Jeff Masters — Ann Arbor resident and director of meteorology at Weather Underground — along with several other University students, including Weather Underground President Alan Steremberg.

While working on his doctorate in air pollution meteorology, Masters worked with Engineering Prof. Perry Samson to create a text-based University weather service in 1991, before the Internet hosted such services.

The weather service spread to K-12 schools and added graphics to their text before 1995, when the company dissociated from the University and became a public company. As dot-com names went on sale, the group missed the domain name weather.com by one month.

Masters explained that Samson had suggested the name as a play on words referencing the 1960s radical political group The Weather Underground, founded by University alum Bill Ayers.

“Back in the early ’90s, when it was just this little educational project at the University, Samson thought it would be a cute tongue-in-cheek reference to the old radical group because it also got its start at the University of Michigan,” he said.

Masters said while Weather Underground sold its resources, technologies and employees to the much larger Weather Channel, their website will maintain independence, using their large staff in San Francisco made up of developers and meteorologists.

“We’re going to be called Weather Underground LLC, and we will be a pretty much independent company with our own CEO, and the goal is to keep doing what we do because we’re very innovative,” Masters said.

He added that The Weather Channel has had an interest in the Weather Underground since 1995 when a group of executives visited them in Ann Arbor.

“They got a new CEO in January, and they wanted to move aggressively to improve their website, and before then, their leadership … was never that serious about acquiring us,” Masters said. “So this was the first time that there was what we thought was a good offer, and we decided to go with it.”

Masters said The Weather Channel will be able to take over unique Weather Underground content and technologies like Personal Weather Stations — of which Masters said are about 20,000.

Masters added that The Weather Channel’s larger following will allow the Weather Underground LLC site to get new traffic as well.

“They have three times the traffic we do, so a lot of people who haven’t heard of us are going to check us out and start using us, and to some degree there will be cross-linking between the two,” Master said.

Masters said in addition to The Weather Channel’s video prowess, the partnership will allow the possibility of utilizing their large Twitter following.

“Certainly we could use their density of Twitter people that send weather information via Twitter to do some cool projects where you could check out in real time when there’s a major weather activity happening and sort of look at the Twitter activity going on,” Masters said.