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Top weather apps for iOS

The recent release of an updated version of the Weather Channel app has skyrocketed it almost to the top of its category, but does it have everything you need?

Whether you live in rainy Seattle or are expecting thunderstorms in Albany, N.Y., it's always a good idea to carry solid weather apps on your iPhone for quick forecasts.

The Weather Channel released version 5.0 of its app late last week with an upgraded interface and a few more features that will be useful to amateur meteorologists everywhere, but it doesn't have everything. One of the more useful parts of any local weather forecast is when you get to see the live Doppler radar for your location. The Weather Channel will show you a radar overlay, but you can't see it move. That's where the second app in this one-two punch comes in, NOAA Hi-Def Radar.

With this pair of apps, you might find that one or the other is the best weather app for you, but hopefully this comparison will help you find what best fits your needs.

The Weather Channel
You'll get almost all the weather info you need, but you'll have to put up with the ads. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

The Weather Channel (Free) is a weather-monitoring application that provides many more features than Apple's built-in Weather app. Released first in 2008, the app recently received a complete overhaul to the interface, adding features that make it even easier to check weather conditions wherever you are.

You can find paid weather applications that are more specialized, but The Weather Channel (sponsored by the cable channel of the same name) offers the features most people want in a weather app. You can view hourly, 36-hour, and 10-day forecasts, quick access to Weather Channel local and regional video forecasts, severe weather alerts, and a dynamic map, which you can use to see everything from rainfall to "feels like" temperatures and the UV index. You can also set favorites and go back to recent locations, which makes The Weather Channel a little more useful on GPS-enabled devices.

Version 5.0 brings with it a complete overhaul to the interface. The new layout offers an elegant Home screen, adorned with wallpaper that matches the current conditions (blue skies, rain, and snow). You can you swipe between locations, search for other cities, and toggle a drop-down box filled with details like wind, humidity, visibility, and the UV index. Especially useful is the ability to swipe directly to the weather information specific to your area (using what TWC calls TruPoint forecasting technology), giving you the weather not just for your region, but your specific location.

The only drawbacks to the Weather Channel app are a lack of animated radar images and a distracting ad banner across the top of every screen. Unfortunately, Weather Channel Max (the $3.99 paid version) has not yet been updated with the new interface. So while you'll lose the ads by paying, you may have to wait a while for the paid app to be updated so you can take advantage of the new interface layout.

Hard-core weather junkies won't find everything they want here, but the Weather Channel app is a great option for planning your week, staying dry, and deciding what to pack for a trip. Anyone who wants a better weather app for the iPhone or a big upgrade to the existing interface should download this app immediately.

If you want to take your weather watching to the next level, you might want to spend a little cash on this next app.

NOAA Hi-Def Radar
Look at the local radar animation with the latest info, or drag and drop the purple pushpin for weather in that area. Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

NOAA Hi-Def Radar ($1.99) doesn't offer all the features found in The Weather Channel, but it does one thing extremely well: it delivers great-looking animated radar images. Having a forecast in front of you is one thing, but being able to see the path of an actual storm is sometimes the feature you need most. Whether there has been a rise of tornadoes in your area, or you're just a fisherman wondering how long you can stay out, NOAA Hi-Def Radar is the perfect companion for a quick look at incoming weather.

With this app, you can simply tap the current location arrow to get a satellite view of your town to see the latest weather activity. Just as with local TV forecasts, you'll be able to view cloud and storm movement to see if a storm is coming your way, in smooth high-definition. You can see when each satellite image was taken, and watch as it moves to the next image on the timeline. When a new image is taken, it will be updated. Also, you can touch a button in the lower right to search for other locations, get a forecast for the point at the center of your map, and adjust what buttons you want to see on the NOAA Hi-Def Radar home screen.

NOAA Hi-Def Radar doesn't only do radar images. You also can drag and drop a pushpin for local weather to any location to see the current weather there, along with a five-day forecast with basic information. There is also a system for bookmarking locations so you can quickly switch to favorite spots to see what the current weather outlook is there. As far as customization is concerned, you can adjust what colors are included in the weather severity spectrum, what buttons show up onscreen, and several other options from the settings screen by touching the gear icon in the lower right.

NOAA Hi-Def Radar is not as feature-rich as the Weather Channel app, but the features it does offer are done well and could provide just the information you need.

In the end, the two top weather apps for iOS are both solid choices, but offer slightly different feature sets that will appeal to different people. If you're willing to spend a little money, grabbing both apps might be the best bet of all for a comprehensive look at your local weather.