Best Weather Apps for Travelers
While we still can't control the weather, travelers are more empowered than ever to prepare and adjust their plans thanks to increasingly sophisticated—and beautifully designed—weather apps. I tried out dozens in sun, rain, and thunderstorms across the United States and on a recent trip to Europe, narrowing down the options to these 17 top choices.
If you're going to Europe, make sure to download WeatherPro, which has more European weather stations and satellites in its reports than some of the popular apps available in the U.S. app stores. And though bringing an umbrella can be a drag as you sightsee, so is getting caught in a sudden downpour. Both Dark Sky and AccuWeather's MinuteCast will alert you if—and where—it's going to rain within the next few minutes, so you'll be better prepared.
Hurricane season typically lasts from June through November, and the tropical storms that result from even modest hurricanes cause flooding, downed trees, and high winds. While hoping for the best, travelers can prepare for the worst by consulting the Weather Channel app's dedicated Hurricane Central section.
For weather nerds, we're entering a sunny age of data visualizations and real-time reports. But for others, the blitz of data delivered by many weather apps may be exhausting. Sometimes it's easier to just say, "Tell me the current weather" to your smartphone to get instant local listings. Or try a simplified, intuitive app like WeatherCube, which has a Rubik's Cube–like interface. You can link one of its squares to show your current day's appointments, if you sync the WeatherCube app with companion app CalCube.
There's even a Weather Puppy app, which features gratuitous, yet exceedingly cute, images of puppies enjoying whatever the current weather happens to be. It's a guaranteed pick-me-up, even on the dreariest day.
Beautifully designed, Dark Sky also stands out for its real-time weather notifications right down to the minute and your current location. If an ominous cloud makes you wonder whether you should walk to your car without an umbrella, fear not: Dark Sky's unique technology will send you an alert if rain is imminent, even if it's just 10 minutes in the future. Right now, the app is only for iPhones and iPads. But its developers created forecast.io, where you can get the same weather information via a web browser on your phone or laptop. And Forecast powers third-party apps such as Weather Dial (iOS), Arcus Weather (Android), and WeatherCaster (Android, iOS). $3.99; available for iOS.
The saying "If you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes" applies to destinations like New England and northern Europe. If one is on your itinerary, consult with AccuWeather's MinuteCast, which literally gives you minute-by-minute information on upcoming conditions for your exact location—so you'll know if you have 10 minutes to run to the store without needing an umbrella. Besides this nifty feature, the app offers radar maps that are easy to read, breaking storm alerts, and most of the one-stop-shop features expected from a big brand, including video updates, hourly forecasts, and details on humidity, UV, wind speed, wind gusts, wind, cloud cover, dew point, pressure, and sunrise and sunset times. Upgrade to the Platinum version ($2.99) to eliminate ads and receive forecasts up to 25 days ahead. Free; available for Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone.
Swackett opens with a standard current local weather page that has the basic information, current weather warnings, and seven-day forecasts. But swipe your finger to go to the next panel, and you'll see that report interpreted in several fun ways: fashion (featuring current weather-appropriate wardrobe recommendations), lifestyle (indices that tell you whether it's a good day for fitness, driving, stargazing, sailing, and more), health (indices for allergies, sinus headaches, migraines, asthma), and trivia (world weather records). Weather purists may roll their eyes at Swackett, but the health and lifestyle suggestions are particularly useful. Free; available for iOS.
Ultraweather delivers three panels of current and future conditions for local and worldwide locations against a background of user-generated Instagram photos depicting the current weather—though that app's filters sometimes intensify or tone down the realism of the sunlight (or lack thereof). Another bonus for Instagram users: the ability to shoot an image, apply a filter to it, and then share it on that network (as well as Facebook and Twitter) with the current weather included, courtesy of Ultraweather. Free; available for iOS.
The Weather Channel
Hour-by-hour forecasts, radar maps, pollen maps, and video news updates from the cable channel are among the features of this comprehensive weather app. Storm watchers will appreciate the dedicated Hurricane Central map for monitoring severe weather, tropical storms, floods, and hurricanes worldwide. A bonus for iPad users: a travel tool that gives you specific weather information for the days you’re on the road, along with infographic diagrams outlining weather patterns all year, so you can plan accordingly. For airport-specific updates, visit weather.com. Free; available for Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone.
The oldest weather service on the Internet (since 1995!) was crowdsourcing way before the term became popular. This has been done mainly via the 30,000 personal weather stations that are plugged into its networks, though Weather Underground also relies on users to simply verify that, say, it's raining where they are. The interactive WunderMap can be customized with different or simultaneous layers such as precipitation and wind, but also with local user-submitted photos, webcams, and hurricane warnings. An entire section lets you monitor hurricanes around the world, along with hyper-local weather updates and user-submitted images. If that sounds like information overload, don't worry: the app lets you customize the home screen, so you can make it as simple as you like. Free; available for Android, iOS, Kindle.
The Hurricane Tracker app harnesses all the information available on hurrtracker.com for easy-to-access touchscreen consumption. Get access to live, interactive radar and satellite maps as well as long-range graphic maps that predict a storm's trajectory—plus daily audio updates from the app's meteorologists and the National Hurricane Center, along with the 24-hour NOAA weather radio. Get video updates, too, and, of course, push alerts for anything extreme. $2.99; available for iOS; access for a one-time fee of $5.99 on other phones via a Web browser.
Yahoo! Weather serves up images of your current location with its current weather from Flickr, so if it's sunny in Paris, you'll see a gleaming aerial view of the Champs-Élysées (although it may have been taken on a different day). The app offers a curated selection of weather basics in a cleverly designed package that features animated icons for precipitation, wind, satellite, and, surprisingly for a free app, no ads. It sends twice-daily weather notification times when you actually want them: in the morning for the current day and in the evening for the next day. Still, it would be useful to get breaking severe weather alerts, too, an option not available at the moment. Free; available for Android and iOS.
Sleek, intuitive, and responsive, Solar simplifies weather delivery by demanding just a few simple actions from the user. Swipe up to get the weather for the next three days; swipe down gradually to scroll through the weather for the next 24 hours (updated seamlessly onscreen with clock hands); or tap twice and get an instant view of all the locations you're monitoring. Stats are limited to current temperature, daily predicted highs and lows, and outside conditions, but that's the whole point of this minimalist take on the weather app. Free; available for Android and iOS.
A particularly strong European satellite and weather component makes WeatherPro ideal for Continental travel. It offers seven-day forecasts (updated every three hours), with temperature, wind, air pressure, precipitation, and humidity readings. You can view detailed radar and satellite maps for the entire world; upgrade to the premium subscription for high-resolution maps with precipitation, air pressure, temperature, and lightning, as well as UV and snow forecasts for beach and ski resorts. Besides all manner of storm notifications, the app doesn't limit the amount of locations you can save and monitor. Your subscription will work across three devices, as well as with the MeteoEarth app ($2.99), which will inspire you to spend hours perusing animated weather maps by swiping around a 3-D globe with multiple layers such as cloud cover, rain, pressure, wind, and storms. $2.99 basic, with $5.99 annual subscription for premium version; available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone.
The iPhone doesn't have a monopoly on pretty apps. This design-focused app features animated icons to depict different types of weather—minimalist clouds moving to represent cloud cover, for example. Still, despite its good looks, 1Weather manages to deliver loads of information, including pressure, lunar phases, sunrise and sunset, even layered radar maps, for up to seven days ahead. No notifications, though. Still, you won't get so much in such an attractive package at a lower price. Free; available for Android.
Like Cat Spanish, except with dogs and forecasts, Weather Puppy features gratuitous, yet exceedingly cute, images of puppies enjoying whatever the current weather happens to be. In all other respects it's a basic weather app with the current day's temperature and overall conditions, as well as that of the next seven days ahead. Get rid of the annoying ads by buying different theme puppy picture packs ("Pug Life," "Halloween," "Fall Colors") or uploading your own. You can also buy packs to support specific dog charities such as local SPCA and Humane Society chapters. Are you more of a cat person? Download Weather Kitty instead. Free; available for iOS.
Pinch, swipe, and tap around the gesture-based WeatherCube app, whose interface resembles a Rubik's Cube. Swipe left or right to toggle between panels—each with a series of squares that you tap on for updated information on temperature, precipitation, cloud coverage, and more—for different days. You can even link one of those squares to show a current day’s appointments, if you sync the app with companion app CalCube. The app also offers a version for the Pebble Smartwatch that you control by flicking your wrist. Free; available for iOS.
Besides offering a full suite of weather information, WeatherBug has one big point of differentiation: Spark, an up-to-the-minute, local lightning tracker, which can let you know where lightning is striking in real time and even follow you to let you know if you're about to hit any. Also, a dedicated storm center highlights the latest intense weather and hurricanes. The ads scrolling across the bottom can be annoying, though, so it's worth the $1.99 upgrade to get rid of them. Free; available for Android, iOS, Windows Phone.
Voodoo Skies Normal or Not
Delivering a history lesson along with its standard weather delivery, Voodoo Skies Normal or Not will tell you how much hotter or colder it is compared to previous years, whether or not it should be raining, and other historical data, sourced from the VoodooSkies.com site. With color-coded graphs and simple icons, it's nice to look at, too. Free; available for iOS.
The Red Cross Hurricane App
What needs to be in your emergency kit? How should you board up windows? The Red Cross's app provides a comprehensive checklist of necessary preparations for before, during, and after a storm, along with the ability to set notifications for your immediate area, track current storms on a map, find the nearest shelter, and easily share your whereabouts and safety updates via social media. In your downtime, you can look at historical trajectories of storms in your area and test your knowledge via a series of challenges on hurricane history and preparation. Free; available for Android and iOS.
Dedicated radar apps are all the rage today; just search on "radar" in any app store to see the various options. But RadarScope is king of the genre and useful for anyone who finds staring at radar patterns mesmerizing, as well as hard-core weather enthusiasts. Open the app and tap on one of more than 231 NEXRAD and Doppler radars in North America to see detailed weather data, color coded based on the type of precipitation, from "very light rain or snow (blue)" to "intense to severe thunderstorms" with hail (pink). The iPad version offers a special AirPlay display for showing on larger screens like your HDTV. Upgrade to the pro subscription for animated lightning data and additional radar looping time. $9.99; available for Android and iOS.