Forecasting the Best Weather Apps
Weather is a hot (and cold) topic this winter. More snow than usual is piling up in my Pennsylvania hometown. Single-digit temperatures are showing up on car dashboard displays here in Washington, D.C. Even New Orleans got a taste of “sneaux” last week.
Loads of weather apps aim to lure you with chirping notifications, cute puppies, gorgeous photography and 3-D globes. This week, I waded into the digital storm to test five popular apps: Yahoo Weather, Dark Sky, WeatherBug, The Weather Channel and Weather Puppy. All except two run on Apple’s iOS and Android’s operating systems; Dark Sky and Weather Puppy are iOS-only. Dark Sky costs $3.99; the others are free.
Though I’ve occasionally used weather apps in the past, I default to quickly checking the weather data built into my phone’s operating system, usually only when the weather is unusual.
But after writing this review, I can see myself using one app — Yahoo Weather — more regularly. This is a standalone app that’s packed with data, yet text and images are displayed in a clean, uncluttered manner. When precipitation was on its way, I also checked the Dark Sky app, and enjoyed its interactive design.
Below, a brief description of each app, including a forecast of its best and worst features:
Sunny: Elegant design displays a lot of data in a simple interface, includes beautiful photos.
Stormy: After just a few minutes of use, the app asked me if I wanted to switch my phone’s search engine to Yahoo.
The beauty of this app lies in its façade of simplicity. The first screen displayed is a Flickr image related to the city itself, or its weather conditions. In one instance, a photo of the Capitol at sunset filled my screen for my Washington, D.C., location. Basic weather details — the day’s high and low temperatures, current conditions and current temperature — appear at bottom-left. Swiping right to left displays photos and weather for other cities you’ve added. Up to 20 locations can be saved.
Swiping up lets you scroll through data that makes weather nerds smile. This includes the amount of precipitation predicted for morning, afternoon, evening and night; the position of the sun and shape of the moon; a map that shows satellite data, heat, wind and animated radar for the last hour and a half; and a five- or 10-day forecast, powered by Weather Underground Inc.
Other apps show this data and more, but make the mistake of squeezing as many details onto one screen as possible. In Yahoo Weather, blocks of information can be moved up by long-tapping on a handle in the top right and dragging the block up or down.
Sunny: A 3-D globe lets you swipe to explore countries around the world.
Stormy: No Android version, isn’t as full-featured as some other weather apps.
As its name implies, this $3.99 app is at its best when a storm’s a-brewin’. Even if you don’t have a storm in your area, you can tap on the location bar in Dark Sky to see another area where there’s an “interesting storm.”
Tap the bottom-left Map icon in Dark Sky to see a three-dimensional image of Earth, which spins when you swipe it and zooms in to focus on specific areas. Color coding quickly shows precipitation and temperatures around the world. I regularly opened this app and lost track of time while browsing around Asia, Australia and the Caribbean, just for fun.
Dark Sky’s home screen shows the current temperature and whether that number is rising or falling, which helped me when deciding which winter gear to take with me on walks. Another screen displays a week’s worth of temperatures in a clever way that lets you glance to instantly see what day will have the greatest range in degrees.
Sunny: Precise location data, Spark lightning notifier.
Stormy: Interface feels crowded with data, ads can’t be removed by paying for the app.
This tool originally gained notoriety for its annoying notifications, which sounded out a chirping sound when severe weather was on its way. These chirps are now off by default, so they won’t irk people who don’t want to hear them. WeatherBug uses the traditional National Weather Service data as well as its own local stations positioned on places like school roofs. This provides even more accurate location-based information, and there’s no limit to the number of locations you can save in the app.
WeatherBug also includes something called Spark, which, once turned on, gives minute-by-minute lightning-strike information.
But this app has ads that pop up at the bottom of the screen, and an ad-free paid version isn’t available. It also feels outdated and a little crowded, like it’s trying too hard to fit everything onto one screen. Later this month, a new version of the WeatherBug app will become available on iOS, followed by a version for Android this spring. A representative for Earth Networks said this new app will update the look of the WeatherBug, give the Spark lightning-detection feature a makeover, and move some app tools around, aiming to improve the user experience.
The Weather Channel
Sunny: Detailed data, lots of video, thanks to its corresponding TV channel.
Stormy: Interface can feel overwhelming and ho-hum.
The Weather Channel is one of the weather apps most commonly found on people’s smartphones. Its no-nonsense approach gives data — and lots of it — in a small space. The background of the app’s homepage changes to reflect the current weather in your location, and urgent notifications appear here so you don’t have to dig around for them.
As might be expected, TWC is chock-full of videos. These are sorted by four categories: Must See, Local/U.S., World and On TV. If you’re a weather nut, you’ll love watching these. But lots of people don’t have time to sit and watch videos, so they’ll just skim through the basic weather news in this app, which is thorough, but feels utilitarian and a bit dull.
The free version of the app has ads, while a $3.99 version nixes ads and throws in extra tools.
Sunny: Cute puppies give you a reason to check the weather.
Stormy: No Android version, lacks details found in more robust weather apps.
If you’re one of those people who consistently find themselves stuck without an umbrella, this app will give you a reason to check the weather. Each type of weather and time of day correlates to a different photo of a puppy. You might care less that it’s raining, because you have a cuddly canine on your screen. If you’re more of a cat person, try Weather Kitty.
Ads appear at the bottom of this app, but buying any of its themes, like Loving Labs for $1.99, will make the ads disappear.