Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Smartphone Weather Swiss Army Knife

Disclaimer: The author of this blog entry is not affiliated with any of the mobile applications presented, nor is the author compensated on any sales commission.

This blog entry will focus on the best weather apps available for mobile devices.  Often I get asked which weather apps I use on my phone.  With technological advances in the information age, it is easier than ever to be aware of developing weather situations.  As severe thunderstorm season is just around the corner, it is important to have the necessary weather tools to keep you safe.  My goal is to eliminate or minimize “there was no warning” comments from the public during the aftermath of a storm.  Outdoor warning sirens were meant to be heard OUTDOORS only.  Improved home construction has deadened the audible level of sirens inside.  Everyone should have multiple sources for obtaining weather alerts and information.



RadarScope (v1.8.1)

On the iOS platform, RadarScope from Base Velocity is my favorite weather radar application.  This app is geared towards the advanced weather enthusiast, and meteorologist who is able to interpret radar products such as base velocity, storm relative velocity, and vertically integrated liquid, in addition to base reflectivity (standard precipitation image).  For novice enthusiasts and general public, I recommend the radar found in the iMap Weather Radio app (more details later).

For $9.99 at the iTunes Store (iOS) or Google Play (Android) market, RadarScope gives you access to over 150 NEXRAD sites across the United States, Guam and Puerto Rico, including secondary “terminal” radars in larger cities, right in the palm of your hand.  It outputs raw Level III radar data for a high level of detail.  What this app does not do (perhaps due to the time and data necessary to load such a feature) is the ability to display a mosaic across the country.  Currently, only one radar site may be selected at a time.


What gives this app an advantage over NOAA National Weather Service radar websites is the ability to interact by zooming in and out of a location to get a better understanding of at current conditions.


RadarScope also includes polygon placement for weather warnings, so you can quickly identify if your area is effected by using the phone’s built-in GPS to pinpoint your location, displayed by a blue crosshair (not displayed in this example).  All current warnings issued by National Weather Service offices are displayed by selecting the red icon (number of warnings indicated) in the upper right hand portion of the screen. Tapping the warning polygon will display a text balloon indicating the warning type, minutes remaining until expiration, and the ability to see the warning text by selected the right arrow enclosed in the small blue circle.


The warning text is displayed in a full screen from the National Weather Service.


Another component of RadarScope is cell tracking.  When this feature is enabled in the options, a white line appears indicating the direction of the storm cell.  Tracking also plots hash marks at 15 minute intervals from the starting point noted by a square.


For the spotters and chasers out there, this app features Spotter Network integration for tracking your position (red dots) when storm spotting or chasing to check your position relative to the storm, or see who else is out in the field.


For an additional $10/month, weather watches, storm reports, lightning, and Storm Prediction Center thunderstorm outlook data can be displayed on RadarScope through a subscription from AllisonHouse.  As a storm chaser and spotter, I have found this additional subscription useful for tracking storms before I decide to spot/chase or for days where I am the armchair spotter/chaser.  My primary reason for subscribing to AllisonHouse was for the GRLevel3 radar software I own, which offers additional benefits that supported mobile apps do not yet include.

I have been using this app for about a year now, and I have found it to be intuitive to navigate.  For an application that is focused on radar, it does the job really well, and is worthy of recommendation.  RadarScope was the first mobile app to offer dual-polarization radar, an upgrade being implemented across the United States to better define characteristics inside a particular thunderstorm.  RadarScope is stable in operation, and developers have added new features through occasional updates since the initial release.  Bugs and other issues are addressed in each update to enhance performance. The app just received an update to v1.8.1 in March.


PKYL logo

PYKL3 (v2.3.1)

PYKL3 from PYK Consulting is a radar application exclusive to the Android mobile platform, and sold at Google Play for $9.99.  Like RadarScope, PYKL3 is geared towards the advanced weather enthusiast, and meteorologist.  PYKL3 and RadarScope are similar in many ways, PYKL3 features all NEXRAD sites, sans terminal Doppler radar.  Spotter Network support is offered, and plots the location of active users.


While PYKL3 and RadarScope share some features, they also have some differences.  What sets PYKL3 apart is the customization for the user. Cities, highways, and individual types of weather warning polygons can be turned on/off.  Additional options include the ability to display primary and secondary roads, mosaic radar from across the country, and satellite imagery using a simple gesture.  With the latest version, it features surface observation plots as an option.



Warning polygons appear on screen (if selected to display in the options) and a long press over the polygon brings up the warning text from the National Weather Service.



This app also has the ability to search through National Weather Service issued text products.  If you are looking for a particular severe thunderstorm warning or hazardous weather outlook, it all can be found in the options.


While I appreciate how customizable PYKL3 is, I am giving the nod to RadarScope for it’s easy to use interface, and screen layout.  The learning curve was a little greater for PYKL3, but it was not overbearing by any means.  I had a better user experience with RadarScope, as I found myself enjoying what was being displayed on-screen.  With PYKL3, I felt I was digging through menus more, and spending less time looking at radar images.


Those with limited data plans may also run into issues with using all of the advanced features offered by PYKL3.  With that said, this is a powerful radar, and despite some of the shortcomings I had with it, I do recommend it.  Any hardcore weather enthusiast should have either RadarScope or PYKL3 on their mobile device.  The app just received a major update to v2.3 in March to a warm reception from users overall.



iMap Weather Radio (v2.0)

iMap Weather Radio from Weather Decision Technologies is an essential app for when you are away from a television or radio to receive weather-related alerts.  This is currently an iOS only application (an Android version is in the works), and sells for $9.99 in the iTunes Store.  After hearing some of the issues that plagued the first version of this app, including an accelerated drain on battery life, I declined to purchase it until the issues were resolved. With the new version of iMap Weather Radio released on March 3, 2012 to initial positive reviews, I took the plunge and purchased this app, and I’m sure glad I did.

Below is a pretty good overview video of the capabilities with this app.  It also demonstrates what happens when an alert is received in real time.


This app allows you track weather alerts for up to five locations at once, in addition to your current location as established by the device’s GPS.  Another nice feature is being able to adjust the accuracy of background GPS tracking using a slider to find a happy medium between accuracy and battery life.


Alerts are completely customizable and can be toggled on/off in the settings menu.  Virtually every kind of weather event is present as an option, from fires to floods to tornadoes.


This app also features a basic radar on top of a Google Map display.  While not as sophisticated as radar found in RadarScope or PYKL3, it provides enough information for the novice weather enthusiast to understand the weather situation with heavier storms depicted by darker colors.  This radar also differentiates between rain and snow using algorithms.  I found this to be a nice supplement to the primary weather radio function.


Various weather and climate-related alert overlays can be turned on from the button at the bottom of the screen.  If a particular alert is in effect, a polygon is overlaid on top of the radar display.


Active alerts can be viewed from the menu screen by tapping “Current Location”.  The number of alerts are enclosed within the red or yellow badge to the right.


All active alerts are displayed and audible playback of each alert is available by tapping the play button on the left side of the screen.  The text from the National Weather Service alert is then played.  If you would rather see the the alert text than to have it read for you, tapping the right arrow will being up a text box and a visual overlay of the alert on a map to get a quick glance at the locations included in the alert.


When a severe thunderstorm warning was issued in the county I live in, I received audible and visual notification.  I was provided with the opportunity to listen for more information or to read the warning text.  The only requirement for audible alerts is that the device must be unmuted.  Otherwise, iMap Weather Radio works as advertised.

Of the three essential apps presented here, iMap Weather Radio should be first purchase priority.  It has the potential of being a life-saving device, providing real-time alerts as they are issued by the National Weather Service.  For weather enthusiasts, either RadarScope or PYKL3 are the recommended radar apps of choice.





iMap Weather Radio


No (in development)









  1. loving your blog, keep it up, as always!

  2. My only complaint is when you zoom in to the county level, the radar image is pixelated. I use radar scope on my iPad and I can't justify the extra $10 a month for Allison House. All that data is easily accessible from the web.