Get accurate weather forecasts and data from these sources for free or a relatively small fee.
Weather affects everyone, but we don't always pay attention to the source details of weather forecasts we see, hear, or read. Weather can make the difference between easy or difficult travel, on-time or delayed deliveries, and/or successful or cancelled events. That's the reason transportation providers, delivery services, and major outdoor event managers all pay significant fees for customized weather forecast information.
Almost everyone—from individuals to small and mid-sized organizations—can access a significant amount of highly detailed and accurate weather information. Here's how to better understand the source of weather forecast information, identify accurate forecast providers for a location, and obtain additional weather data either for free or a relatively small fee.
1. Start with search
If you have an internet-connected computer, you have access to a weather forecast. Search for the keyword "weather" along with a location name or identifier (such as a zip code), and the results will display the current temperature and a forecast. Voice assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri also respond to weather-related questions, such as "what's the weather forecast tomorrow?" or "will it rain today?"
Weather data providers vary by vendor. For example, Google delivers data from The Weather Channel in response to Google.com and Google Assistant weather queries. The Weather Channel also supplies data both for Apple's Weather app on iPhone and for Siri responses. Microsoft's Bing and Windows 10 weather apps rely on forecasts from Foreca. Amazon's Alexa sources data from AccuWeather, while DuckDuckGo provides results from its partner Dark Sky (Figure A).
2. Seek accurate sources
The accuracy of different forecasters varies. ForecastAdvisor lets you enter a location and then provides an accuracy ranking of the performance of forecast providers for that location. The providers compared include AccuWeather, Dark Sky, Foreca, MeteoGroup, National Weather Service, The Weather Channel, Weather Underground, and World Weather Online. Note: "Persistence," which is also listed, is simply a forecast that predicts tomorrow's weather will be exactly the same as today's weather. Persistence provides a baseline forecast against which to measure other forecasts.
For example, the most accurate forecast over the past year may be provided by The Weather Channel for one location, while in another area AccuWeather may score better. ForecastAdvisor can help you identify a weather forecaster to rely on for each site (Figure B).
3. View varying forecasts
Windy provides free access to forecasts based on four distinct models, along with a compelling weather data visualization app on the web, as well as in apps for Android and iOS. You may choose to display wind, temperature, radar, air quality, and much more. The app includes access to weather data (known as METARs) from airports.
Windy also offers the ability to view four different forecasts simultaneously. These include the basic model from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a regional model run by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, a model developed by Meteoblue, as well as a model from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. A review of these four forecasts can help give a good sense of the range of potential weather for a location (Figure C).
4. Add an app that lets you switch data sources
In addition to weather apps available direct from major weather services, some third-party weather apps can display forecasts from different sources (Figure D).
For example, with a paid subscription ($6.99 per year), Hello Weather lets you select from Dark Sky, AccuWeather, AerisWeather, and The Weather Company. Similarly, for a purchase ($4.99) plus premium subscription (starting at $4.99 per year), CARROT Weather provides access to data from Dark Sky, Foreca, ClimaCell, AccuWeather, AerisWeather, MeteoGroup, and WillyWeather. Both Hello Weather and CARROT Weather offer apps for iOS and Android devices.
5. Review radar
Radar imaging can help you track and understand how rain, hail, snow, and other weather systems move and change. RadarScope sets the standard for timely, accurate, and detailed access to radar data. On Android or iOS, for a one-time app purchase of $9.99, you get access to data from hundreds of radar sites (Figure E).
Two additional (and optional) subscription tiers give greater access to data such as real-time lightning and radar animations (Tier 1) or recent radar data for the past month (Tier 2). Tier 1 is $9.99 per year, and Tier 2 is $99.99 per year. RadarScope also offers desktops apps for Windows and macOS.
6. Track weather en route
Specialized apps allow you to find forecasts for travel by land, air, or water. Paid and/or subscription-based services deliver weather forecasts for land routes (inRoute for iOS), air routes (WeatherSpork for iOS and Android), or water routes (iNavX for iOS and Android). See the links to the respective sites for detailed feature and pricing information.
The free WolframAlpha service lets you explore weather as you travel through time or, more precisely, provides access to historical weather data in the modern era by date and place. For example, I searched for "Weather in Dallas, Texas on July 24, 2000" and saw results that the temperature (in Fahrenheit) ranged between 66 and 90 degrees that day (Figure F).
Your experience with these or other weather apps?
What source of weather information do you value the most? What has your experience been with one or more of the apps mentioned above? Is there an additional weather app or service that you recommend? Let me know—either in the comments below or on Twitter (@awolber).
- Severe weather and emergency policy (TechRepublic Premium)
- IBM aims to use crowdsourced sensor data to improve local weather forecasting globally (ZDNet)
- How Fruit of the Loom uses weather data to better market fleece (ZDNet)
- Best Weather Apps for iPhone for 2019 (CNET)
- Best Weather Apps for Android for 2019 (CNET)
- The 5 best weather apps with the most accurate forecast (Download.com)
- How-To Tips: More easy-to-follow tutorials (TechRepublic on Flipboard)