The Migraine Forecast

Building an app to predict migraines
…using the weather

Nov 11, 2014 · 4 min read

“Do u have a headache today?”
“I’m ok but I do feel a bit weird”
I replied,
“Me and my friend have had headaches all day and we reckon it’s the air pressure or something, how can u see if the air pressure dropped?”

This was the beginning of my idea.

I suffer from migraines. And let’s get this straight, migraines are not just headaches. Debilitating numbness down my left side, arm, leg and lips in addition to blindness and vomiting means I’m out of work for two days. It’s no fun.

Around 10% of the world’s population get migraines, about the same amount as left-handers. That’s over 36 million Americans alone.

There are many triggers for migraines; tiredness, stress, dehydration, flickering lights, lack of food …and the weather. Yes the weather! For me, and increasingly so, a migraine can be triggered by a sudden change in weather.

a migraine can be triggered by a
sudden change in weather.

I confirmed this 10 years ago on my graduation day. It was a beautiful warm sunny day, until after the ceremony when it started snowing. Things were starting to feel strange in my head and then the migraine struck. No more celebrations for me. I headed back to my hotel room to lay down in the dark. Game over.

At the time there weren’t many studies regarding the connection between migraines and the weather but it certainly affected me, and my mother felt the same (migraines are genetic too).

Fast-forward to today and there is a little more research about the migraine-weather connection, there’s even a migraine warning with some weather forecasts. But it’s still fairly complicated. Scientists know there is a link, but are not quite sure exactly what that link is. Is it air pressure? What kind of pressure? Temperature? Rainfall? The Sun, Lightning? High winds? A combination of all? Is it the same for all sufferers? Do women suffer more than men? What about children?

I wanted to find out exactly what causes my migraines, so I decided to do what I do best — build an app.

I wanted to find out exactly what causes
my migraines, so I decided to do what I do best — build an app.

Firstly I knew that the second I felt a migraine coming on, I would need to record as much information about the weather as possible. But I was concerned that it could already be too late to capture what just happened. At the point of recording I decided I would therefore need:

  • previous weather 1 hour or so ago
  • current weather conditions
  • upcoming weather in the next few hours

Luckily I could get all of this data from openweathermap — open source weather data. I grabbed around 40 unique pieces of information about the weather at that moment from pressure, humidity and wind speed, to cloud cover and temperature.

I discovered the new iPhone6 and iPhone6 Plus each have a built in barometer which provides a super-accurate atmospheric pressure reading of where you are. I added this to my collection of measurements and set to work.

the new iPhone6 and iPhone6 Plus
each have a built in barometer…

I started building an app. I added four magic buttons to fire off my captured weather data alongside my migraine status to the cloud ( for those who are interested) where I could begin my analysis.

Image for post
Image for post

The last thing I want to do when I have a migraine is look at a bright mobile screen, so I had to design a very simple app that would be easy on the eyes. Here’s what I came up with…

I gave the app the name weatherless — which nobody liked (but I do, so there!) and built a small holding site

I’ve tracked a few of my own migraines, but it will take a while to form an accurate hypothesis, so I’m hoping everyone can help me speed up this process.

For now, the main focus is to capture data. The app notifies you if people nearby feel the same, which can help you judge if there are unfavourable conditions. But with more data I can analyse the link between migraines and the weather, and build an accurate prediction algorithm. This may be a universal algorithm or a personalised one for each user — I’ll see what the results dictate. I plan to release my findings and a new version of the app with advanced warnings and alerts.

It’s a small research based experiment, yet a global one. Who knows what we will find, but I hope that weatherless will grow to accurately predict migraines and warn users when to take medication.

If you suffer from migraines
download weatherless.

If you suffer from migraines — even if you don’t think they are triggered by the weather — download weatherless for free and submit your readings. Otherwise, tell your friends who suffer from migraines to download it. — Available for iOS and Android

Send me your thoughts on this project and please recommend this article below and share it with your friends. If there’s enough interest, I’ll write more about this project and open up the data so we can all have a dig around.

About the Author

Nic Mulvaney is a leading Interaction Designer based in London, UK. Over the past 12 years he has worked for Digit, AllofUs and Nokia, working on high profile projects for clients such as BBC, Nike, Science Museum, Sky, Wellcome Trust and Xbox. He currently freelances and runs several digital projects of his own —

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