Weather Forecasts from Smartphone Apps
Finding weather information from smartphone apps helps keep the forecast working for you while away from your home or office.
I arrived rather late to the always-connected party, not obtaining my first smartphone until Thanksgiving of 2016. After enjoying using the phone as a radio and television for several months, I have recently been trying out weather apps which are available at no charge. I am not inclined to pay for such apps because free weather information is readily available. I have long utilized the classic National Weather Service website (weather.gov) from my laptop or desktop computers and considered it completely adequate for finding weather info – until recently even using it from my phone browser. However, I am finding that the compact structure of the NWS mobile-friendly site and some weather apps makes finding basic weather information much more convenient.
Starting from a Familiar Place
While looking at weather apps, I started from a familiar place — the NWS site optimized for phone browsers -and am really pleased with it. Firstly, it does the one thing – looping radar images — which the classic NWS site may struggle to perform on cell phones. Secondly, the layout is simple and the images crisp and quick to load. Underlying the simplicity is that you provide your zip code or city upon loading the page, then mobile.weather.gov bases everything on that location.
Skipping the map interface — with which weather.gov has you select your location — saves time. The current conditions and 36-hour forecast (as shown to the left) then appear as options right away — and both are expandable (using the + signs) to provide more details.
Scrolling down this front page reveals menu selections for other current and forecast info. I really like the link allowing you to Tweet a report for the NWS should you observe significant weather at your location! More specialized information — such as Tropical Weather and Astronomical info — can be selected farther down the list. There is even a link to go to the “Full Site” if and when you want to jump over and use the classic NWS webpage.
Most Important Features
I consider the most important features in a phone weather app to be radar images, temperature maps, satellite pictures, future weather, and lightning strike maps.
My favorite of the apps tested is the Weatherbug app. The best feature is the easy way that the daily forecasts can be expanded to show the hour by hour forecast. Many good weather apps allow this hourly forecast display, but the Weatherbug app was my first encounter with this feature on my phone. The regional temperature map is excellent, and the 60-minute radar loop is good. There is also a lightning map (though a bit slow to load) showing the flashes on a map in real time. The lightning map also notes the distance of the closest lightning from the user’s location.
I find a real differentiating feature to be future radar and satellite images. That’s because of the visual depiction of rainfall coverage and intensity. Your local television station may be your best source for a weather app showing the expected cloud and precipitation patterns for the next several hours. One of our local TV stations provides a weather app showing future radar out to the next six hours. To see a longer range future radar loop I look in the video section of the app. There one can replay the most recent weather program aired by the station meteorologist. Often, this recorded show will contain the future radar out to 24 hours and beyond.
Weather warning alerts are of great use. Several free apps — such as Simple Weather Alert — specifically for this purpose can alert the user via a wide array of methods. Blinking lights, bells, other sound effects, and voice alerts are available. Having spent the last few weeks on the edge of the Northern Plains drought area, we have had little in the way of severe weather threats to test these capabilities – so the warning feature is something I may revisit in future articles.
I found that running more than one of these apps simultaneously can pose a couple of disadvantages. First, if you turn on notifications in a weather app (such as a status bar with present temperature) it may crowd out other notifications. For a week or two, text message alerts were not popping up on my home screen! Running the weather apps also seems to drain my phone battery noticeably more quickly. For this reason, I decided to choose my favorite two weather apps and remove the others.