Apple has included the Weather app on the iPhone for many years and has even improved it over time. It’s not a bad app, providing current conditions, a full day of hourly temperature and precipitation forecasts, and nine days of extended forecasts for general weather conditions plus high and low temperatures.
But if you work or play outside regularly, or are just curious about the weather, spend a few bucks on one of the many more-capable weather apps in the App Store. Many provide useful features like hyperlocal precipitation warnings, animated radar maps, and forecasts that give you a sense of how the weather will be changing throughout the day. Most of them rely on the uncannily accurate data from the Dark Sky Company, which specializes in weather forecasting and visualization. That means that they should all have pretty much the same data and forecasts, so deciding which app to use is more about whether you like an app’s interface than the accuracy of the app’s predictions.
All else being equal, check out the $3.99 Dark Sky app. It’s the top-seller in the App Store’s weather category, and for good reason: it provides a fast, slick interface to the weather information you need, along with notifications that alert you to the weather events that matter in your life.
What sets Dark Sky’s forecasts apart from those from many other weather forecasting services is that they’re “hyperlocal,” which means that the app uses your iPhone’s GPS to know exactly where you are, enabling it to “see” when a blob of precipitation on its radar map will intersect with your location. It’s almost spooky the first time Dark Sky tells you that rain will be starting in 10 minutes… and it does! No weather forecasting system is perfect, of course, but if Dark Sky can alert you to pack up your picnic before the thunderstorm hits or show you that putting off your run for 30 minutes will let you avoid getting wet, it’s worth every penny.
Dark Sky provides three screens. The main screen shows the current conditions, along with a graph of precipitation predictions for the next hour. Below that is a vertical timeline that displays the predicted temperature and conditions for the next 24 hours. Tap the buttons beneath the graph to change the default predicted temperature to instead show the likelihood of precipitation, wind speed and direction, humidity, or UV index.
Swipe from right to left to reveal Dark Sky’s 7-day forecast screen. It displays the likely conditions (and the likelihood of precipitation) plus high and low temperatures for each day. But tap any day, and Dark Sky zooms in to the same hourly vertical timeline as on the main screen for that day. A general forecast that predicts rain on Wednesday isn’t nearly as useful as Dark Sky’s hourly view that shows the rain won’t begin until late afternoon.
Swiping from left to right on the main screen switches to Dark Sky’s animated radar view of precipitation, with a pin marking your current location on the globe. Pinch in and out to change the zoom level and drag the view with a finger so you can see what weather the radar says is coming your way. Once you have the view as you like it, tap the triangular Play button to animate the last 3 hours of radar visualization. Even better, Dark Sky lets you drag the playhead 1 hour into the future, so you can see if a particular storm might slide by to the north instead of raining on your parade.
On the main screen, you can tap My Notifications to enable precipitation alerts at your exact location along with another alert with the forecast for the day. Those are configurable, so you can set how heavy the rain has to be before Dark Sky will alert you and at what time the daily forecast will roll in. There’s also a switch for severe weather alerts if you live in hurricane or tornado country, and you can even create your own alerts along the lines of “Notify me at 9 am if daytime feels-like temperature will rise above 90°.”
Finally, if Dark Sky ever gets it wrong, claiming that it’s merely cloudy while the rain beats down outside, you can submit a weather report to help the company refine its predictions. Correcting an errant forecast won’t make it sunny, but it will make you happier.