Why I Get My Weather From NWS

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I’ve used National Weather Service graphics in a few recent posts. Since then, several readers visited the NWS site and remarked how comprehensive it is, expressing surprise that “they’d never heard of it.” That was puzzling to me — I’ve had them bookmarked for years and I check their forecast daily.

An online search reveals dozens of weather apps available for smartphones, some free, some with ads, some at a price. Here’s one trusted reviewer’s opinions on the top 15:


You can, of course, visit the NWS website on your smartphone browser. It does a good job adjusting the display responsively for different screen sizes, but you have to manually input (or bookmark) your location. Better to download their dedicated mobile app — it will detect your location automatically and provide the forecast wherever you are.

Every weather app on the market taps into the same database. It’s provided as a public service by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a few international partners. Differences between weather apps come down to how they package that data: user interface, graphics displays, gizmos and gimmicks, notification types, and level of customizability.

Still, NWS remains my favorite for many reasons. The uncluttered ad-free design is a refreshing escape from commercial sites, and there’s no annoying popups. You could spend hours discovering all the features available on each page. Here’s a few I visit regularly:

5-Day Forecast: This is my daily go-to page. You can set it up for any specific location with separate bookmarks for multiple locations. This icon-based forecast is what I commonly use in my posts.

Forecast Maps: If you’re looking for standard meteorological maps showing high and low pressure systems and fronts, like the maps you see on TV, you’ll find them all here. When I’m looking for maps and charts I almost always access the site from my desktop. The graphics are all hi-res and scale up nicely on large monitors.

Hourly Outlook: This 24-hour rolling forecast shows hourly predictions for temperature, humidity, wind, precipitation, and other basic weather data. I find it helpful when planning outdoor activities.

Satellite Images and Loops: Thanks to the NOAA/NASA network of GOES satellites you can watch the weather evolve in almost real-time. Satellite images are updated every 5 minutes and added to a looped video that can be paused and reversed. If you want to see what’s headed your way, this will give you the view from an altitude of 35,786 km (22,236 mi). Images are very high resolution — smoke from wildfires is often visible.

Astronomical Info: Want to know the time of sunrise or sunset? Moonrise or moonset? The phase of the Moon? When the tide is coming in? These and other astronomical data are conveniently tabulated for the location of your choice. Note: This section of the NWS website is currently being updated and may behave strangely.

Education: NWS provides a nice collection of educational materials and activities for students, parents, and teachers. Of note to home schoolers: Owlie Skywarn can help you out with science. Most of the content is geared toward students but there’s plenty for adults as well.

Glossary: Every weather term you ever heard is defined in this comprehensive alphabetical listing. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between mostly sunny, mostly clear, and partly cloudy? You’ll find the explanation here.

If all you’re looking for is a concise forecast, any weather app will work. If you’re a weather geek like me, you should give NWS a try. Learning a new app is always a chore, sure. But if you check out NWS and take the time to explore what they have to offer, you just might discover your new weather app.

Next Week in Sky Lights ⇒ Traveling Rainbow

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