Bad weather is going to happen, whether you’re dressed for it or not. From unexpected heat waves and cold snaps to sudden rainfall, having the foresight to look at a weather app is often the difference between a good day and a bad one.
Of course, not all weather apps are equal. Some are better designed than others, and a handful cost a few dollars to download, or have in-app purchases for certain features. And the one that came with your phone is often too basic to be super helpful. So what should you look for when picking the best weather app?
Pretty much every weather app will present you with the most relevant data, like temperature, wind speeds and expected precipitation. But some are simply presenting forecasts from government sources, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), while others are doing their own weather predictions — so it’s wise to check a variety of apps and compare their forecasts against one another.
“In some cases they are essentially just taking our model output and plotting it and making graphics and images with our model output,” says Dr. Neil Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction at NOAA. “And some are so sophisticated they’re actually running their own models, so they download the the observations, run their own weather models, and produce output.”
Ultimately, the decision will come down to what you most want out of your weather app. With that in mind, here are our suggestions for the best weather apps, depending on your forecasting needs.
The Weather Channel: For the basics and more
The Weather Channel app has the basics — detailed forecasts for the hours and days ahead — but also much more.
Forecasts extend up to two weeks in advance, a welcome feature considering The Weather Channel’s award-winning forecast accuracy. The app also provides basic weather conditions related to various activities, like running, boating, or skiing.
Using machine learning, it surfaces the data you interact with most often, putting it at the top of the page for easy viewing. It even apes a feature from your favorite social media app, presenting interesting and important data in an optional “stories” feed. And meteorology geeks will love the feed for weather news beyond what’s happening in your neighborhood. An annual $3.99 membership removes ads.
Dark Sky, for rain haters
Dark Sky’s reputation for eerily accurate precipitation predictions is well-earned, making it the go-to weather app for people who want a heads-up before that sudden downpour.
Presented in an easy-to-understand timeline — complete with a lovely looking radar and timeline feature — Dark Sky’s minute-by-minute forecasts give you the basics along with some other relevant weather information. It’s definitely enough to know whether you need to pack your umbrella or jacket.
Dark Sky’s predictive power is its forte, and has often been my saving grace when it comes to making it home dry. No, the real-time rain predictions aren’t gospel, but more often than not if Dark Sky says there’s rain on the horizon, it’s right on the money. Speaking of which: For Dark Sky, you’ll pay $3.99 on iOS, and an annual $2.99 for the long-awaited Android app.
RadarScope, for real-time stormwatching
If you’re a hardcore meteorology nerd, hiker, biker or anyone else who wants to keep an especially close eye on weather, RadarScope will provide more than enough radar imagery to help you track any major weather changes headed your way. With access to over 200 radar facilities, including 156 high-resolution “NEXRAD” radar sites in the U.S., RadarScope updates every few minutes, giving you a near real-time look at any incoming unpleasantness. (It’s a favorite with stormchasers.)
A RadarScope Pro subscription, starting at $9.99 per year, provides an even more information-packed data feed, supports more high-resolution radar data, and provides more information about inclement weather. The cheaper subscription provides access to real-time lightning strike data, extended radar playback, and the option to compare two of the hundreds of available radar feeds. Big spenders get even more information, including hail and shear contouring data for measuring the amount of hail or better predicting a tornado’s touchdown.
Surfline, for checking the waves
Hanging ten is supposed to be fun, though wasting hours on end to catch a single swell can be a total bummer. Instead, surfers, paddleboarders and so on should look at Surfline, which provides the weather data they need to make sure their day the ocean is a day well spent instead of a day spent just soaking wet.
Surfline lets users pick their favorite surf spots to monitor from a list of hundreds of locations around the world. From there, you can get a daily summary of surf conditions of your favorite spot, so you know how high the swells will get and when you should get on your board. Even better, Surfline has its own network of live camera feeds providing 4K streams of surf spots, so you can check out the conditions yourself before you head out the door. Both its mobile and web interface are easy to navigate and relatively ad-free.
If you need access to more cameras, want higher resolution video without ads, or want more in-depth data and curated weather reports, you’ll have to sign up for Surfline Premium’s $9.99 monthly or $95 yearly subscription option. Other benefits include a long-range forecast complete with wind, swell, and weather conditions, as well as projected surf heights.
Nautide, for weather on the water
If your weather concerns revolve around the open seas, or you just want to know when you can go out clam-digging at the beach, check out Nautide, which provides in-depth information about everything from weather on the high seas to expected waters levels and marine life activity.
You can swipe through 10 categories, each breaking down aspects of a different weather condition, like wind, tide, or solar activity, among others. Nautide pulls its data from buoys owned and maintained by the NOAA’s National Ocean Service, and makes it easy to pick and choose among the more than 10,000 buoy stations from which you’d like to see data.
Want more information about the nautical week ahead, or want to see what the weather conditions were like a few weeks back? Nautide will sell you an annual data pack costing $13.99, providing a calendar year’s worth of data from either 2019 or 2020 (with years prior available for $0.99).