App of the Week: Ranking Nine Popular Weather Apps
Even weather Hercules Jim Cantore could use some app help now and then.
My name is Jeff, and I'm a weather nerd. When I was very young, my father, an avid outdoorsman, would flip on the old-school weather channel on early cable television that consisted of nothing more than the current Houston/Galveston radar and the NOAA weather radio station playing in the background. From the moment I saw that big blue screen in the pre-dawn hours before fishing trips, I was hooked.
Most of my friends know that, when hurricane season begins (June 1 if you want to put it on your calendar), I'm a pretty good choice if you have questions and don't know an actual meteorologist. In short, I have all the weather model online Web sites bookmarked in their own folder. Like I said, I'm a nerd.
As technology provides us with more and more access to all kinds of technical data, it makes sense that smartphone technology should start serving up some pretty nice weather apps. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the best apps are made for iPhone, with one notable exception, but after the jump, I rank nine popular weather apps (not counting the crappy excuse for an app that comes with your iPhone) so you can know what to use when the weather turns nasty (or for when we get the first drop of rain in what seems like a century).
9. AccuWeather Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: Free It's never a good sign when an app won't work until you agree to terms and conditions or that it automatically chooses New York and London for your default locations without asking. AccuWeather is a respected weather service that has put out a rather bland app. The maps are average and the layout is not nearly as nice as some of the others on this list. It does have a forecast that goes out 14 days -- well beyond any of the others -- and it lists sunrise/sunset times. It also has a "Lifestyles" section that lets you know how the weather is for, say, walking your dog. It's a solid app, but not spectacular.
8. Weather HD Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: $0.99 Weather HD has been described as beautiful and elegant and it most definitely is. In fact, it is one of the most unique and attractive designs I've ever seen on an app. The backgrounds are animated with beautiful outdoor scenes and each change -- clicking the forecast button, for example -- triggers a smooth, almost film-like transition. If you want robust features, this app falls short, but if you want a breathtakingly unique look at the weather, this is it.
7. The Weather Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: $0.99 I've read a number of good things about this simply titled app, and it does have quite a few things going for it. Its "widgets" can be organized in virtually any way you like and the interface is well designed. Unfortunately, it doesn't feel particularly intuitive and that causes it to fall somewhat short of the others. Maybe the most useful aspect of the app is the wide range of weather stations that can be chosen from a list. Most apps rely simply on a ZIP code, but this one is much more specific. It also utilizes WeatherUnderground information and all weather nerds are a big fan of that organization. Overall, a good, solid choice once you get used to using it.
6. Weather Radar Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: $1.99 Over the past few months, during what has been one of the worst droughts in Texas history, my girlfriend and I, both fans of a good rainstorm, have been fond of saying, "Check the doppler" whenever it is cloudy or we hear wind outside just in case. Up until now, I've mostly grabbed the phone and checked the number one app on this list, but that has changed thanks to Weather Radar. Imagine a Google world map overlaid with radar and cloud cover and that's what this app provides. It's simple and a bit clunky -- even with wi-fi, the loads were a bit on the slow side -- but it is the most comprehensive radar out there and it covers the entire globe. 5. Outside Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: $2.99 This is, by far, the most unique and fun-to-use app of the bunch. In a way, it is kind of the opposite of WeatherGeek in that it ignores complex charts and maps in favor of a cartoon-like interface based on the weather outside your window. It's remarkably simple and quite pleasing to look at (reminiscent of the Mac desktop app Swackett), and it has most everything the average person would want to see from a weather app minus radar. Plus, Jay Leno made fun of it, so you know it's good. If you just want a nice-looking app to tell you what it is like outside, and if you don't mind coughing up the three bucks, give this one a shot.
4. WeatherGeek Pro Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: $4.99 The truth is, this really doesn't belong on this list because it is only for hardcore weather nerds, but I had to add it simply because some of you might share my affliction. Weather Geek is an app with full displays of weather model maps that meteorologists use to forecast the weather, along with a highly detailed forecast with parameters only someone who spends time looking at dynamical model forecasting (i.e., a total dweeb) would understand. It's completely awesome, but not for everyone, especially with that price tag.
3. Weatherbug Platforms: iPhone, Blackberry, Android Web site: App Info Cost: Free (Elite version for $0.99) Weatherbug was my first weather app, but I abandoned it when it started shutting down on me too often. Upgrades, particularly my move to the paid Elite version, seem to have fixed the problem and I'm back to enjoying this really nice weather tool. It's got quite a lot of comprehensive information as well as photos from web cams in the area. Like The Weather, it chooses from a large number of local weather stations, which helps when living in a city the size of Houston or when traveling. The interface is not close to the best of the bunch, but this could easily be a person's only weather app and he would miss nothing from the others.
2. Weather+ Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: $0.99 Open up Weather+ and all the basic weather data is right on the screen and easy to find. What this app does so effectively is display all the most pertinent information on a single screen, saving the hassle of looking around with menus and scrollbars. It is the model of efficiency. And, if you want, you can customize the information on the screen in a number of different ways. This is easily the best of the one-screen weather apps and has become a favorite of mine.
1. The Weather Channel Platforms: iPhone Web site: App Info Cost: Free Note: This is made for Android as well, but is VERY poorly rated and apparently has some problems, so I stuck with the iPhone version for the purposes of this post.
Not surprisingly, it all comes back to the big daddy, the Weather Channel. There are certainly some drawbacks here -- the weather radar is sometimes behind by as much as half an hour and the interface is not what you would call elegant -- but, overall, there isn't really anything better. You can skip the $3.99 "Max" version and the weird subscription services they offer. They don't add anything significant and the freebie is more than enough for most people. This is an app I look at every morning. It is simple to navigate and easy to understand. It is the best comprehensive weather app on the market.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.