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Weather.gov Has the Best Forecast

Weather.gov Has the Best Forecast - Featured Image

published by Chand Bellur
February 14, 2017 at 3:51 p.m. PST

There are numerous weather apps and services available. This article explains why Weather.gov offers the most accurate and best forecast.

Meteorology isn’t an exact science. With so many variables involved, accurate predictions are difficult to make. This year, in particular, has been very wet, making the forecast all the more essential. I can wear a raincoat or carry an umbrella, but if I go shopping, it’s hard to keep my groceries dry when it is pouring. My dog hates to go for a walk when it’s raining. Like most people, I prefer to run outdoors when it’s not raining. All I really need is just a few hours of dry weather.

The App Store Doesn’t Have Any Decent Weather Apps

I used a lot of different weather apps to find a break in the rain, but they all differ so much. I ended up using multiple weather apps, but found that the underlying predictions are often grossly inaccurate. I understand that a 10 day forecast just isn’t going to be precise. But there’s no good reason why these apps have such poor hourly forecasts. Meteorologists should be able to predict the weather for the next few hours. All too often, I found myself getting soaked when the forecast had a 0% chance of rain. I got fed up and decided to look outside of the App Store for my weather information.

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Let’s face it, most iPhone users are mired in the App Store. There’s a huge focus on apps, partly because Apple has control over that experience. The Web isn’t really owned by anyone, however, Google does dominate Internet search and advertising. Apple’s competition with Google has resulted in a lopsided view of mobile computing, where apps offer limited glimpses of the Internet. For example, a weather app actually connects to the Internet to get its data. A lot of apps are simply thin clients that communicate with servers on the Internet. Instead of using just one app, a browser, to view web sites, native apps take up space on your device, often to accomplish the same task.

Apple has far more control over apps. They can reject apps from the App Store for various reasons. They are notoriously fickle when it comes to accepting and rejecting apps. Apple can enforce user interface guidelines, making the experience uniform, stale and homogeneous. They can’t control what you can do with your web browser, other than limiting the type of browsers available in the App Store.

Although your iPhone has a powerful processor capable of running a fully featured web browser, Apple forces all browsers to use their WebKit rendering engine. It doesn’t matter whether you use Safari, Chrome or virtually any other browser, they all must use WebKit. They all have Safari “guts”. The problem is that WebKit isn’t very good. This may be intentional. After all, why put a lot of resources into web browsers, when Apple prefers that customers use apps instead?

One unfortunate consequence of this app-centric existence is that there are really no good weather apps in the App Store. I’m sure some readers will object to this statement, but I have tried them all. They all tend to have inaccurate data and forecasts. Sometimes I wonder, when I use these apps, do the meteorologists work in a windowless office? Just look outside, and one can see it is raining, but the current conditions show it’s not. This has happened too many times. If you’re looking for a reliable weather forecast, don’t look in the App Store. Look on the web.

It may seem “old-fashioned” but the World Wide Web is still full of some of the best apps. You don’t have to install them. You never need to update them. You can even add them to your Home Screen. After years of getting bad weather forecasts, I finally acquiesced to using Weather.gov, and it’s made my life much easier.

Weather.gov Offers the Best Forecast

I’ve known about weather.gov for several years, but the excitement over apps had me ignoring it for a long time. I fell for the allure of slick weather apps with animations, overlays and other superfluous features. The problem is that if the underlying data is flawed, that beautiful weather app is worthless.

You often hear criticism that the government can’t do anything right. It’s a gross generalization. I hate the DMV as much as anyone, but some government agencies are highly effective. The U.S. postal service delivers letters and packages for an unbelievably low price with exceptional reliability. They are still essential to our nation’s commerce. Unlike their private counterparts, the mail man seems to be the only one who can actually put packages in front of my door, instead of chucking them at the front of the building, where they can be stolen. Most private couriers can’t even reach remote parts of the nation. Instead, they hand it off to the good old USPS, because they have offices everywhere. Similarly, the National Weather Service has a network of top-notch meteorologists providing reliable forecasts for every area in the nation. This is the underlying data source used by Weather.gov.

The National Weather Service is a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It employs 5000 people in 122 forecast offices. No private enterprise has these resources at their disposal. The NWS simply provides the most accurate local forecast available. A lot of it has to do with profits. Private weather services can’t make a fortune from weather forecasts. It takes tax payer dollars to provide these services to the people, because it is simply not a profitable endeavor.

The weather.gov website is ugly. It looks like they created it in the mid 90s and kept the same look for over two decades. It’s important not to judge weather.gov on aesthetics. After all, the actual forecast is most important. Let’s take a look at how to get the most out of weather.gov.

Weather.gov Basics

You can access weather.gov using any web browser on virtually any computer or device. For the purposes of this article, I will be using Safari on my iPhone. After all, you will probably need to check the forecast when you’re not near a computer. Simply open your web browser, tap on the address field and enter “weather.gov”. Tap Go on the keyboard to open the site. You can also click on this link to open weather.gov in your browser.

Open Weather.gov in Safari

The weather.gov home page displays weather information for the entire U.S. You will often see a weather alert for severe weather somewhere in the country. It also displays a nationwide map with alerts for specific regions.

Enter Zipcode for Local Weather Forecast

You probably want your local forecast, and they have that too. Simply type in your zip code or city and state in the field on the top left of the web page and tap Go. You will now see an accurate local forecast.

You can get an even more specific forecast than your city, state and zip code. Weather.gov has a pinpoint forecast feature that can be set using a map. Scroll down to the middle of the web page to view the map. Double tap your approximate location to zoom in. Keep double tapping until you can see your preferred location. It’s best to zoom in to the point where you can see the house or building where you want the forecast. When you find the exact location, tap on it once. The web page will reload with the pinpoint forecast for your location. The forecast is optimized for the green square on the map.

Weather.gov Pinpoint Forecast Map

At this point, it’s best to save this location for further reference. After all, you don’t want to fiddle with the map every time you check the forecast. Simply tap the share button on Safari to display the Share Sheet. Next, tap on either Add Bookmark or Add to Home Screen, based on your preference.

Add Weather.gov Bookmark or Home Screen Icon

I recommend adding it to your Home Screen, as you can launch it just like an app. Now that you have your local forecast configured, let’s take a look at what weather.gov has to offer.

Weather.gov Daily Forecast

Weather.gov displays alerts and warnings at the top of your local weather page. You can tap on the warning to get more information. Current conditions are displayed below any warnings.

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Weather.gov Current Conditions

The current conditions might not be for your pinpoint location, which is a minor annoyance. It should be close enough for an accurate temperature reading, and you can look outside to see if it is raining. I have to admit, some weather apps, such as Storm, are much better at reporting current conditions from a composite of multiple weather stations. I recommend using Storm only for this purpose, as I feel their forecasts are inferior to weather.gov’s.

Weather.gov Extended Forecast

The daily forecast for your pinpoint location is displayed below current conditions. Make sure to scroll to the right to see all of the days covered. Unlike some weather apps, they don’t offer a 10 day or 21 day forecast. It’s a pointless endeavor. These long-range forecasts can’t possibly be correct, so weather.gov doesn’t bother with them.

A detailed daily forecast is located below the extended forecast. It features a written summary of weather conditions for each day and night. These can be quite detailed and it demonstrates that an actual meteorologist is working on these forecasts. It’s not just some garbage regurgitated from a server in some data center.

Weather.gov Hourly Forecast

As with all weather services, weather.gov provides a detailed hourly forecast which spans several days. This is your best bet for finding a few hours when it won’t be raining. Simply scroll down the page and tap on the graph labelled “Hourly Weather Forecast”.

Weather.gov Hourly Forecast Graph

As you can see, the graph displays detailed information, such as chance of precipitation, wind speed/direction, temperature and other statistics. Tap on the grey buttons located on the top right corner of the graph to move forward or back by two days.

The hourly forecast graph is one of the most useful features on weather.gov. It is specific to the pinpoint location you defined using the map. You may want to save it as a bookmark or add it to your Home screen.

Weather.gov Radar and Satellite Maps

Radar and satellite maps are essential for viewing precipitation and cloud cover conditions in any location. If it is raining here, there may be places nearby where it isn’t raining. I can look on the map to find a dry place to run or walk my dog. Fortunately, weather.gov has adequate radar and satellite maps.

Scroll down the page until you reach the “Radar & Satellite Image” section.

Weather.gov Radar and Satellite Map Options

The radar map is located on the right and the satellite map is on the left. Both maps are specific to your pinpoint location, although they display a much wider area. Click on either map to get a full screen view. Each map offers numerous settings, but default to the most useful view.

Weather.gov Radar Map

One noticeable absence is the lack of a future forecasting radar feature. In my experience, these aren’t very accurate, which is probably why they don’t provide them. I recommend using the hourly forecast instead. You can look this up for any location by setting a new pinpoint location on the main forecast page.

Some Weather Apps Are Still Useful

Although weather.gov is my go to source for weather information, I still haven’t deleted all of my weather apps. I find that Storm is probably the best weather app, and it’s great for looking up current conditions. It offers current conditions from a vast collection of weather stations. Storm can also compute current locations at any location by compositing it from nearby locations. That said, I find it’s easiest to get local current conditions by looking out the window. Storm can be incorrect about current conditions, especially if you live in an area with microclimates. It also offers a predictive radar feature. Although these aren’t very accurate, they may be useful for some.

Overall, I have found weather.gov to offer the most reliable weather forecasts. I encourage iPhone users to look outside the App Store. Sure, the are some weather apps that claim to use NOAA and NWS data, but they all seem to have some shortcomings. Beyond accuracy, weather apps take up room on your iPhone and have to be updated constantly. The Web is still good for a lot of things, and weather forecasts are one of them. When it comes to weather information, it’s hard to beat weather.gov.

We’ve just scratched the surface with this article. Weather.gov offers a wealth of meteorological and climatological information. You can even look at the long-term climate predictions for your area of the country. The website may look a bit hokey, but the information is top-notch. When it comes down to it, that’s all that really matters.

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