The weather over the past few days has been awful across the U.S. Just as I was thinking that spring had finally sprung, another six inches of snow fell and, once again, I was forced to head outside and start shoveling.
Only this time, I didn't even know the storm was coming. I hadn't visited my typical weather destinations on the Web and I hadn't checked out my mobile apps. It was, for the lack of a better term, a perfect storm. So when I woke up yesterday morning and saw just how much snow had fallen, you can imagine why I thought writing this column, detailing the best destinations across the Web for finding weather information quickly, was such a good idea.
Weather on the Web
AccuWeather is usually my first stop when I start looking for the latest forecast. The site isn't pretty and is overrun with too much information on its front page, including a national map, a slew of ads, and other weather data that makes it cluttered. But the site makes up for it by offering the most accurate forecasts in the space.
Where AccuWeather really shines is in its local page. Once you input your ZIP code, you'll be immediately brought to a page that takes a look at your local weather over the next 15 days (which is 5 more than you get at most sites). It also features hourly weather data, precipitation probabilities throughout the day, and radar images zoomed in on your location. On a calm day like today, there isn't much to see. But when bad weather is about to hit, I've found that AccuWeather's data is spot on.
For example, back in January, we were hit hard with almost a foot of snow in my area. Other sites like The Weather Channel expected the snow to start at about 8 a.m. and dump 8 inches before it moved on. When it was all said and done, AccuWeather had it right: the snow started at noon and we had over a foot to shovel out. It's not an isolated event. Time and again, AccuWeather has proved itself as the most reliable source I use for weather information.
The Weather Channel
The Weather Channel may be the most well-known weather destination on the Web (especially for its hurricane tracking), but its local weather leaves much to be desired.
The Weather Channel's homepage is designed well and it provides good information about the biggest weather stories in the U.S. While that's a welcome addition, when something major is happening in a specific area of the country, I've found that the homepage doesn't offer much more than that, making it generally useless for quickly checking out local weather reports.
While local pages on The Weather Channel do offer basic information like current temperature and forecasts up to 10 days, I've found that there isn't as much data as I would like. In fact, the site features far less information than what you can find on a site like AccuWeather. Sure, it has the radar maps and you can put those in motion, but by and large, I was generally unimpressed by how deep it goes. And as mentioned earlier, I've found that it's not as accurate as AccuWeather, which makes it a less than ideal destination.
That said, the Weather Channel redeems itself with its ubiquity. You can easily search the site from your Firefox browser, since it's one of your choices in the search bar and if you query Google with "weather," you can search the company's site directly in the search engine. Even better, if you sign up for Weather.com, it can send weather alerts to your mobile phone or e-mail address. It's a simple addition and sometimes it can be annoying when it sends weather advisories for areas far away from where you live, but it comes in handy when a storm is on the way.
WeatherUnderground might not be my first destination when I'm looking for weather data, but it looks great and provides detailed information on what's happening across the U.S.
The first thing that struck me about WeatherUnderground was how well it's designed. Unlike the sites mentioned already, WeatherUnderground's front page features a map placed prominently in the middle of the page, as well as a general forecast for the entire nation if you want to get a quick view of what's going on. The site also makes it easy to switch maps from "Fronts," showing where the weather currently is, to temperature, humidity, radar, and others. It has it all.
However, once I made my way to the local page on WeatherUnderground I wasn't so impressed. It didn't forecast days nearly as far out as AccuWeather, and the information provided seemed far more basic than what I could find on competing sites. That said, it boasts an outstanding feature, dubbed "Weather Stations," that provides you with all the necessary information like temperature, current conditions, wind, and much more from every weather station in the area. When I searched for my location, I found more than 30 weather stations. It was an ideal tool to find out how the weather was around town.
WeatherUnderground isn't the best destination on the Web if you want accurate weather data; AccuWeather once again provided the best forecasts. But with a great-looking homepage and some useful features found on its local pages, WeatherUnderground isn't a bad stop on your way to finding local reports and extended forecasts.
Mobile apps and alerts
You can also find some nice tools on your mobile phone, including mobile apps and alert services that make it quick and easy to get weather data no matter where you are. (Note: Each of the sites above offer free weather apps that I won't review here. But I will say that they're all worth using.)
WeatherBug's mobile app is easily my favorite. It's available for free in the Apple App Store, and is also available for Windows Mobile devices and the BlackBerry.
WeatherBug isn't the best forecast destination and it won't stand up to more robust online sites like AccuWeather, but when you're in a rush and you want information quickly, it's an ideal app because it's free and feature packed.
When I started using WeatherBug on my iPhone, I was shocked at how much the developers packed into the lightweight app. Along with forecasts and radar, the app boasts hour-by-hour data, precipitation expectations, and much more. But my favorite feature has little to do with weather at all: each location you search for in WeatherBug features a camera page, which lets you see a real-time snapshot of the area. It's depressing when I look outside and see snow and then look up Key West, Fla., in WeatherBug and see a beach and sunny skies. But it's still a neat feature.
WeatherBug also provides alerts and advisories from the National Weather Service. In a matter of moments after a weather advisory is issued, WeatherBug pings the app and updates its alerts section with the advisory. It's a useful feature when the weather gets really bad.
The National Weather Service Mobile
OK, so maybe it's not an "app" in the conventional sense, but the National Weather Service will send alerts to your phone, and its mobile page is second to none. The site makes it easy to search for different areas, it loads quickly, and it provides all the necessary information you need in order to plan a weekend--all right on the front page.
Along with your local forecast and current conditions, the National Weather Service mobile page features a satellite image of the U.S. that you can loop, and local radar to see where the bad weather is and where it's going. It's simply the best way to get radar data on a mobile phone.
Alerts.com has alerts for just about anything you can think of, but its Weather Alerts are a nice offering that makes it quick and easy to find out what's coming your way.
Weather Alerts will send you a text message or e-mail each time there's a weather advisory issued by the National Weather Service. The information includes all the weather information included in the advisory, and more will filter in as conditions change. The alerts can be annoying at times, and you probably won't care to receive them once the weather advisory expires, but it's a good way to receive updates when your power is out and you need information quickly, for example.
Weather Alerts are free and the information they provide couldn't be more up-to-date or useful. And although there are times when I wish I didn't subscribe to the service, it's my handy companion when the power is out and there's a bad storm raging overhead. If nothing else, it's a great service to have as a backup when you can't access other sites.
Got any of your own favorites? Leave them in the Talkback.