Hello, everyone! This is Jill from the Northwoods. Today, we’re talking about weather apps. And I love weather, I’ve always loved weather. Ask my people at work. They know that I’m a weather geek too. I provide my own ad hoc forecast for people in my office, whether they want it or not. So when it comes to weather, I’m a true believer, and I have a true love for weather data. That’s what makes my iPhone so great – it’s with me all the time.
Weather Apps as Spyware
From the beginning of my time in IT, I learned a valuable lesson that weather apps are spyware. As one of my first tasks on a support team, I had to go around and remove Weatherbug from everyone’s machine where it was installed.
There were very few other weather apps available at the time, and Weatherbug was a good one. But when we looked at it, we determined it is a data tracker and a data seller. After all these years and all these additions, it eventually got sold to a company called Ground Truth. Ground Truth says it is the “leading location-based marketing and advertising technology company.” They acquire a lot of software, and their whole purpose is to sell data.
There’s no real question that Weatherbug while being a very nice app, is just a data selling mechanism. It conveniently connects to your smart thermostat to help you understand how warm your house is; at the same time, you know the temperature outside. Isn’t that nice of them? So what can we do about the fact that many weather apps are spyware or at least greyware? (Not necessarily for the sole purpose of spying on us, but they do it on the side. )
So today, we’ll talk about my favorite apps. Why I like them. Their widgets, complications, and their security. I, too, wanted to answer the question for myself, how can I be a weather nerd while at the same time protecting my data? The first thing to understand is why weather is such a target of being spyware or greyware. Namely, it’s because it’s the one thing, if it asks you if it can track your location, you say ‘yes’. Weather needs it. I have to let it track my location to know exactly what the temperature is outside, wherever I am. On the other hand, if your game asked you if it could see your location, there’s a good chance you’ll say ‘no’.
Weather Apps have a notorious past
Often, these apps are owned by companies that have a vested interest in selling data. For example, IBM owns two of the most well-known weather apps: The Weather Channel and Weather Underground. And to get the weather data itself, it can be a little expensive. There are all sorts of subscriptions that you have to have to get the data you need to produce a solid weather app. So they’re looking to make money. And the weather industry is really competitive. There are only so many radars, so many models out there. So then it becomes a game of how well they can present the data, and how much you can customize the data. And that means hiring a lot of developers, and you have to pay for that. It’s costly.
In 2017 AccuWeather was caught selling location data, even when the user said not to allow it. And they were doing the same old trick a lot of different apps were doing: polling Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth devices. Anything they could think of could potentially leak out the person’s location without them giving them permission.
In 2019 The City of Los Angeles even sued the Weather Channel because it was doing bad things with location data. A company from China produced a free app called Weather Forecast, World Weather Accurate Radar. It had more than 10 million downloads from the Google Store. And guess what it was doing? It was sending all the data to China. So you can see that this is potentially a threat to your data and your privacy. Vice said to stop using weather apps at all. But you know what? I can’t quit weather apps. I love them so much.
Stay Safe with weather apps
I think there are some good ways that you can stay safe while using weather apps.
- First of all, Apple came out with a fantastic feature called precise location, which means you can turn off Precise Location for any app that doesn’t need to know exactly where you live. But, of course, they may need to know what town or city you’re in. But do they need to know your address too? Hmm, maybe not.
- The second tip is maybe don’t use any location service and manually add your town or city to the weather app. And this is an excellent tip. It just requires that you remember to do it. I always forget to do that. And I like my apps to follow me so that if I’m in Los Angeles, it tells me what the weather is in Los Angeles, tells me when there are fires in Los Angeles, all sorts of things. So I like it to do automatically. But if you don’t need that kind of attention:
- The third tip is to use a browser instead of an app. Many of the apps like the Weather Channel and AccuWeather have great websites. But, to be honest, both the Weather Channel and AccuWeather websites are a lot better than their apps. So you actually gain functionality by not using the apps.
- The last tip is to use really great apps that won’t track your data or at least do so as little as possible.
Carrot – Best All-Around App
So the first app we’ll talk about is the app that lots of people love, and that’s called Carrot. Carrot has become, in the last few years, a lot of people’s favorite weather app. And it’s not just because it’s funny, and maybe a little bit nasty. When it comes to humor, it pretends that it’s a robot that hates human beings, and it tells the forecast from the point of view of that robot. It even has an AR feature, where you can see that robot inside your living room with floating weather data all around it. So it’s funny, and it has a game, and all sorts of entertainment go with it.
But the thing that you may not know is, it is actually the best weather app out there. It’s amazing. It does it all. So, first of all, if you don’t appreciate humor, you can actually turn it off. There’s a Setting out there for Personality. That’s called the “Professional” level. And if you turn it to that, it will act like every other weather app out there. It’s raining. It’s gonna rain tonight. It’s sunny right now. It will just tell you exactly what the weather is.
But if you set that to “Overkill,” it gets downright nasty. And there are a few settings in between there. You can also decide that you want political settings, which are “Apolitical,” where it won’t give you a political joke, to “centrist,” “Anarchist,” and everything between. So once you get those personality settings to be exactly what you like them to be, it’s actually pretty funny. There’s also a setting there, regardless of which settings you picked previously, indicating whether or not you want it to cuss.
You could have it read the weather for you. It has about 20 different voices. It’ll also read the insults for you too. You can configure the screen layout, the font size, and the colors. You can pick different icons for the app. It is entirely customizable. Carrot has some widgets that you can place on your iPhone desktop. Really good ones that talk about the forecast, talk about the hourly forecast, and some excellent radar views, a big radar or little radar. And that used to be somewhat hard to get. But Carrot did a really nice job of creating those widgets.
It also has amazing complications for your Apple Watch and all sorts of ways that you can look at the weather on your watch. Plus, the watch app is really nice and has many details on it in a very well-laid-out way. Carrot provides you with two preset Apple Watch displays that will make your weather-watching dreams come true. They’re both great and only available with the premium subscription.
Dark Sky – A Solid Choice
Dark Sky is another really great weather app. And, of course, it made itself a name among the weather geeks years ago. And it got so much attention that Apple bought it. And it’s really famous for its precise accuracy. It’s really good at weather forecasting. And for features that will tell you whether or not you need to dress warmly today or bring an umbrella. It doesn’t track you, which is great.
Dark Sky has a straightforward interface. The homepage just shows you what the temperature is. There is a good amount of detail there. And it lets us zoom in out of various pieces of data and access a lot of weather information and forecasts from your particular area, either in the past or the future.
It has a good radar on it. I find that it’s a little over smooth, a little overdressed up for my liking, but it does the trick when you need a quick radar.
It also has a nice watch app and some complications available for you. Dark Sky has a really good set of notifications, but you can’t control them in exact details. It mainly wants to know if you’re going to get weather notifications, whether it’s going to rain or it’s going to be a tornado, what kind of notifications do you want to get. Still, they aren’t very detailed. . Dark Sky also has no widgets for your home screen, which is a real shame. Dark Sky is only for iOS and is $4. Dark Sky
Weather Underground – Honorable Mention
And then the last weather app I’ll talk about is something called Weather Underground. And it is free. There’s a premium level too. It’s a terrible website, but a really good app. I think it has a really nice interface. The data comes from everything from professional locations to amateur weather stations. So it is what they call hyper-local because it could be your neighborhood if someone has one of those weather stations near to you.
You get to see the wind, the weather, the temperature, and all the stats that you’re used to seeing. Again, it has a good radar, and the radar is not overproduced or not over color emphasized. Nor is it desaturated. It looks appropriate. You can look at the forecast forward in time, which is actually what I like about the app the most. I want to look at the whole week for what it will look like on one screen from rain to wind to weather.
With a $20 per year premium, you can get rid of ads, which is nice. You can get a lot more severe weather alerts. Decide if you want those or not. You can also create activities based on weather rules. So you could say something like when I bike, I like it to be under 84 degrees Fahrenheit, over 45 degrees Fahrenheit and have the wind under 15 miles per hour.
When I create that type of rule base, it will tell me when it is a good time to ride my bike for the rest of the week. And maybe when I mow my lawn, I don’t want it to be raining. And I like my temperature within that same range. But I don’t mind too much wind. So a different role for when I’m mowing. And I think it’s really nice to have that kind of a feature to know when I can do my activities.
Weather Underground and The Weather Channel are owned by IBM. The Weather Channel’s policies on privacy are complicated, hard to read, and hard to understand. But Weather Underground is not. It’s a very clear policy about using the data and how they don’t use the data.
Inside the app itself, it gives you a link to change how the app settings for turning tracked advertising off your iPhone. And while it does do some tracking, it tries to keep you very informed about exactly what it’s doing, how the data is being used, and how you can get out of it. It even has a way that you can get your data removed from its servers. So I think while it does do some tracking, it tries to make it as straightforward as possible to either stop it or at least understand it.
There is no home screen widgets which is surprising. However, it does connect to IFTTT, which is nice if you’re trying to create these formulas, like lower my smart shades when sunset happens or turn my fans on upstairs if the humidity gets to this level outside. You also get an extended hourly forecast for 15 days with the premium.
So while I think it’s not the perfect app when it comes to security, because again, it does do some tracking, I still believe it’s doing a very good job. Weather Underground is for Apple and Android from www.wunderground.com/…
RadarScope – Old Reliable but Technical
Now let’s talk a minute about weather radar. Radar gets a little bit more complicated because it takes very complex data from many different sources and combines them into a single view.
The best radar app I found is called RadarScope. It costs $10. I like it primarily because it’s made for weather geeks. It really wants to give you quick, accurate, and continuously updating data. And it doesn’t track you. There are also some premium upgrades that you can get if you want a little more data. If you want a longer loop for your data, then it’s about $1.50 a month.
It goes up from there so that you can get professional weather data for storm chasing. You can see how tornadoes are forming. You can see how hail is starting. And it’s really pretty good when it comes to that. You can find out more information at RadarScope
The reason that this app is so good and why so many people love it is the fact that it is giving you accurate radar data. And so most people don’t know is that when you look at most radars, whether it’s on television or on the app, it’s smoothing it instead of this blocky view. It’s making it nice and jello-y. It is transformed and is not exactly accurate. While it looks nice, and I also appreciate that lovely smooth, blobby look, radar scope doesn’t do that when it comes to the radar. In fact, it gives you radar station by station, primarily in the United States, because it has that blocky view to it. It’s more accurate. That’s actually the data that you’re getting from the radar.
And there are two kinds of data primarily that people use to look at what they’re looking at radar data. The reflectivity data shows basically the strength of the energy bouncing off the rain, or the hail, or the tornado. In general, a stronger return means stronger precipitation. That means a stronger storm that’s happening.
Then the second kind of data that’s out there is called velocity data. And that means is the data coming towards the radar or shifting away from the radar? You might think that’s kind of silly because I can tell if the storm is coming towards me or away. But when you’re thinking about looking for a tornado, what you’re looking for is what they call a hook echo. While part of the storm is moving away from you, the other part moves towards you. It’s turned into a cyclone. That means that there’s probably a tornado in there. So you can use the velocity radar to determine if the storm took a really nasty turn.
So that’s why people talk about how much they love RadarScope. It’s weird because you get the round radar, and you get one particular radar station at a time, which means you don’t get that pretty composite of the whole United States. You just get a specific area at a time. But that data that’s coming out of there is top-notch. And so, usually, if you live in a place as I do, there’s only one radar I really need to look at to determine whether a severe storm is coming my way.
RadarScope is $10. It’s $30 for the Mac version. Premium level one is $10. Premium level two is $15. And the pro level is $100 a year. The website even has more levels. Those tend to be for storm chasers and weather professionals.
Radar Omega – Technical and New
Radar Omega is very similar to RadarScope, and it is fairly new in the weather world. Many storm chasers have been swearing by this new application because they like it a little bit more. It feels like it’s an app on its way up. A lot of development investment is going into it. Some of the bugs occurring with the app have been fixed, and many new features are coming out. So people in the weather world are really interested in it.
Plus, it feels a little bit like the other apps used for storm-chasing nickel and dime them a bit. So this feels a little bit more clear about the premium levels. They can tell how to get the right features unlocked for their storm chasing. Radar Omega is $9. There are some premium levels. Gamma has some basic enhancements for the radar. While other levels are going all the way to Alpha for storm chasers. Radar Omega is for Android and iOS from Radar Omega
My Radar – A Great Consumer Choice
My favorite when it comes to a composite is called My Radar. It’s free. It is really a good radar. And, of course, it smooths the radar. So it looks nice and pretty. But it doesn’t over intensify the colors. So if you think you’re doomed when I was looking at all the different weather radar apps that were out there, some of them increased the color saturation so much that it looked like you were about to get wiped out by an epic level storm. And it just wasn’t true.
My Radar really gives it an appropriate color leveling. So you can kind of understand the severity of the weather.
My Radar Pro is $4 from MyRadar.com, and that’ll give you access to Hurricane information, some other radar settings that you might want to have. It also removes the ads. While My Radar doesn’t do much tracking, it does some, and My Radar Pro removes all of it, so the tracking is actually unidentified to you.
Storm Shield – Notification Central!
And then there’s another radar/notification app called Storm Shield. Storm Shield is a decent radar. But the thing that makes it so interesting is that it has a very fine level of detail regarding bad weather notifications. Because you may not know this, but there are probably like 120 different watches and warnings out there in the US. Some of those you want to be brought out of bed if they are coming your way. So for me, a Tornado Warning – I want to be up.
I need to get into my basement any time one is coming towards my house. If you tell me a heavy snow warning is coming my way, I don’t really care to wake up for that. So it gives you that fine level of detail so that you understand all the different notifications you care about. Maybe other people care about different notifications. So it gives you that personal choice if you want to wake me up for these other notifications. Storm Shield is free with premium weather for a dollar and additional lightning data for another dollar. Learn more at Storm Shield.
So let me know what you think and let me know what weather apps you love. Again, this is Jill from the Northwoods. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and at Twitter @smallstepspod. Thank you very much for listening.