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Stay Safe With a Free Weather App

When Mother Nature is in a bad mood, it helps to keep an eye on what's going on in the sky, and one of the most important tools for that is a mobile weather app. A good weather app can be used for simple decision-making, such as determining whether you'll need to bring an umbrella to work, or for more serious preparation and warnings. With dangerous weather conditions across the country, and especially hurricanes threatening coastal states, it's a good idea to check the forecast or radar for upcoming conditions. A mobile app lets you do that wherever you are, whenever you like.

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall

When testing weather apps, we spent most of our time evaluating the effectiveness of their design. An ideal weather app is visually pleasing and easy to use. If you have to dig through several screens to find out when it's going to rain, the app is off to a bad start. To our surprise, performance turns out to be a differentiator in the weather app category, particularly on Android, as a few of the apps were sluggish to the point of being almost unusable in our testing.

What we didn't look for is whether or not the predicted weather came to pass. Our reasons are twofold: First, most weather apps get the bulk of their data from the National Weather Service. Some also pull the predictions from services like Weather Underground or AccuWeather. Some companies, like The Weather Channel, have their own predictive models, but many apps are just shells into which data flows.

Second, and more importantly, to really determine the accuracy of the service's model, we'd have to perform exhaustive tests across the globe. We're simply not set up to tackle that kind of challenge. As it stands, we'll assume that if a company has invested the time and effort to create its own predictive models for something as complex as weather, then it probably knows more about meteorology than we do. For what it's worth, the apps were all quite accurate during testing.

You Don't Need a Weather Man

If you're really concerned about accuracy, consider getting a weather station of your own. The Ambient Weather WS-1001-WIFI Observer and the BloomSky Solar Powered Weather Station are surprisingly compelling tools to get you hyperlocal weather data. Some stations, like the Observer, hook into Weather Underground's service, giving you a custom forecast and improving the service's data. In general, though, weather stations are more about recording your local data than about getting forecasts. Setting up and maintaining a weather station is a fun science project—just maybe not right before a hurricane hits.

I Don't See My Favorite App!

At first, we did not fully appreciate the sheer number of weather apps available for Android and iOS devices. In the end, we picked those we thought offered something unique, along with the most popular apps. If your favorite app didn't make the cut, let us know in the comments below.

Weather Underground

Free
Available on: Android, iOS

Weather Underground is a darling among weather geeks, using its network of personal weather stations to supplement the weather data the other guys draw from. That community aspect even makes its way into the app, letting users submit their own weather observations with just a few taps. A design refresh has made this already-capable app sleek and tasteful, landing it in the top spot for weather apps.

Yahoo Weather (for Android) Yahoo Weather

Free
Available on: Android, iOS

A very close runner-up, Yahoo Weather is a beautifully designed app that brings in the best features of other weather apps—and even improves on them. Crowdsourced images from Flickr are featured prominently and really bring this app to life. What's missing? More radar map options, and a tool for crowdsourcing weather observations. If you don't like Weather Underground, give this one a spin.

The Weather Channel (for Android) The Weather Channel

Free
Available on: Android, iOS, Windows 10 Mobile

We got off to a bad start with the Weather Channel app, but an update changed everything. The new version of the Weather Channel app is a slick and capable companion.

1Weather
Free
Available on: Android, iOS

1Weather hangs its hat on its design and a slew of slick widgets to deliver your weather information. To us, however, the app feels a bit stale, and its design is more glitz than substance. That said, this app has one of the best hourly and weekly forecast pages of any app we've tested. Other developers should steal these ideas.

AccuWeather

Free
Available on: Android, iOS, Windows 10 Mobile

AccuWeather used to be kind of dowdy, until a design refresh radically improved its overall look. However, it still lags when switching between sections within the app, some of which are still cluttered with unnecessary information and links. We do like that it includes a video section for watching all of the latest news and updates on upcoming weather events.

WeatherBug

Free
Available on: Android, iOS

WeatherBug bugged us so much with its slow performance that we couldn't wait to uninstall it. Add to that a scant collection of lackluster widgets and poor design, and you've got a real trifecta of unpleasantness. Not even WeatherBug's unique lightning-detection feature can outweigh the app's flaws.

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