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Weather app for truckers spawned from pilot’s near-death experience

In 2014, Paxton Calvanese launched a unique aviation weather app called Wx24 Pilot. In the ensuing years, he developed a similar road weather app called Driver Weather. With constant refinements and updates, it’s now a popular tool for truckers.

Calvanese loves hearing the positive feedback, Some truckers have told him it’s a life-changer. “It probably saved a life or two somewhere along the way,” he said. 

Perhaps that’s a fitting reward, given that 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 rough flight that shook him to his core.

Calvanese was taking his children, then 7 and 12 years old, on a flight from their home in Chicago to Badlands National Park in western South Dakota. They were planning to stay there for about a week.

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

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

He decided to use what pilots call visual flight rules, or VFR, meaning he could rely on what he saw through the windshield rather than staring at the instrument panel. Calvanese figured this would make the trip more relaxing. It’s standard practice under clear skies.

Over Iowa, cruising 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’ll be about 20 minutes before I hit this. Do I go above it or below it?”

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, do special filings, possibly change his flight plan, etc.

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

“So, I decided to go below it. Because at least if I go below the cloud layer, I could see the ground. I could land anywhere. There wouldn’t be an issue. I would be safe,” Calvanese explained.

But turbulence suddenly dropped him into the clouds and everything turned white. Then he dipped below the clouds to under 1,000 feet.

“Now I’m starting to sweat a little bit,” Calvanese recalled. “I can see fine underneath, but it keeps on pushing me lower.”

Per his training, he tried to make a U-turn to escape the situation, but he couldn’t. Worried about hitting a radio or cell 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 not level when low to the ground, the plane could stall. He leveled out and air traffic control talked him back above the clouds.

Much to his relief, the sun hit him square in the eyes.

His children had no idea anything out of the ordinary was happening. About 20 minutes had passed from the time Calvanese realized he was in trouble until he was clear of danger. 

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

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

Fulfilling a vision

Fueled by his midair scare, the former IT consultant and software developer had a vision — create a simple but reliable aviation weather app that would allow private pilots to make quick “go/no-go” decisions.

He wanted himself and other pilots to feel more confident about flying and didn’t see any apps at the time that could handle these situations.

“You have to calculate where you’ll be at each step. You have to look at the weather at that location. Then you have to account for time zones. Give it some leeway,” Calvanese explained. 

“You might be slower or faster than your expected time that you arrive there, so you kind of have to look ahead a bit. And the further you go out, the more weather you have to look up.”

So he spent about a year and a bundle of his own 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 one screen. Information is displayed in a circular format representing a 24-hour clock.

“If I’m going to continue flying, I need to make this app. I don’t want to risk it. I had this vision. I knew this would solve the problem,” Calvanese said.

Wx24 Pilot launched in late 2014, followed by tweaks and additional features. As far as Calvanese knew, it was the only weather aviation app at that time with a graphical interface that could take the process of checking weather and making calculations along a potentially changing flight plan down to just seconds.

Drive Weather is born

Due to family obligations and getting burned out from promoting Wx24 Pilot — Calvanese never thought of himself as a marketing or sales guy, but rather an idea guy — he eventually scaled back his flying time. He then discovered there are many more drivers than pilots in the world.

So he used the Wx24 Pilot template and brought it down to the ground, envisioning a road weather app for truckers that would provide a high level of situational awareness.

“For a public, consumer app, it had to be slick and it had to be easy,” Calvaese said.

He designed Drive Weather so truckers could enter their destinations and all the stops they wanted to make along the way. The app then shows the weather forecast at the expected times the drivers would get to each point on the trip, automatically updating forecasts and starting points.

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

The app allows truckers to compare routes and it uses a high-resolution display, meaning the app gathers 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’s an option to adjust travel speed for more accurate weather predictions.

“It’s really polished now,” Cavanese said. “It works well and people love it. It’s a huge win 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 as of late April this year.

It’s also been a huge win for Jeremy Parratt, who found the app during a Google search. He noticed most other road weather apps were specific to cars or RVs. He downloaded a few that were geared toward truckers but found them cumbersome. Drive Weather was just what he was seeking.

Parratt is a line-haul trucker for Old Dominion Freight Line, and he routinely drives through changing weather on Interstate 70 between Kansas City, Kansas, and Denver. He’s been using Drive Weather exclusively for a few months. He told FreightWaves it’s been a game changer for him.

“Even into February and March, we were getting some pretty crazy snowstorms that would pop up, some black ice conditions, things like that,” Parratt said.

One of his favorite features is the recently added wind gusts forecast, because he often has to haul empty trailers back to his base in Kansas City. Knowing when and where conditions will be gusty along his route can keep him from rolling over.

“If I’m driving through a 30-mile-an-hour sustained wind, I know it’s always going to be there,” Parratt explained. “But when you’re talking about gusts, you pop over the top of a hill and you’re kind of relaxed and holding on with one hand and all of a sudden you get hit with a 50-mile-an-hour gust, it grabs your attention really quick.”

It came in handy last week when he left Denver around 5:30 a.m. MT with two empty 28-foot trailers. The forecast on Drive Weather was for gusts of up to 50 mph starting at noon around the midway point of WaKeeney, Kansas.

“I knew that since I could use the slide calculator on the app that if I’m leaving at 5:30 a.m., I’m going to be in WaKeeney at 9:30 and past WaKeeney by a couple hours at noon. So I’ll be way past the high-wind warnings,” Parratt said.

He added that the app has saved him time and money, and his family has faith in it too.

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

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

Where things stand now

Calvanese is satisfied with the way Drive Weather turned out. He said it was worth the time and money — an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 to develop both apps. He gets emails from truckers almost every week.

“They’re super-excited about it. They’re appreciative that I made it. They tell me how it saved them,” Calvanese recalled.

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

“Before he even finished, I said, ‘That’s worthless to me. I don’t care. You don’t get it. I’m not trading those emails for whatever number you’re going to throw at me,’” Calvanese said.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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