There’s more to weather than meets the eye and if you dig a little deeper, it helps to understand how the weather is forecast. But some weather is more difficult to forecast than others — thunderstorms, for example. That said, there are thousands of weather apps and websites, not to mention popular weather forecast personalities on TV, ranging from dull and extremely scientific, to titillating in the extreme, like some female forecasters in Central and South America. (examples can be found on YouTube).
Understanding The Weather
Possibly because I’ve done a fair bit of sailing in my life, weather and predicting it has always been important to me. For example, setting off in a small boat to cross the English Channel would appear to be a simple exercise in theory, but since British weather is so fickle, it wouldn’t be prudent to cast off without an up-to-date weather forecast. Back in the day, we would tune into BBC Radio Four (long wave) for an up-to-date shipping forecast, which has the United Kingdom split into maritime regions as per this diagram:
For example, in area Wight covering the English Channel, you may hear this on the radio:
South 4 or 5, veering north or northeast 3 to 5.
Slight or moderate.
Occasional rain or drizzle, fog patches.
Moderate or good, occasionally very poor.
Or one of my favourite phrases, “Precipitation within sight”, conjures up an image of a man wearing oilskins, peering through a pair of binoculars from a lighthouse, and reporting on distant rain. These forecasts are very useful, but even more important is a synoptic chart which shows isobars and atmospheric pressure — a great aid in weather forecasting. This animated UK synoptic chart for example shows us a lot of weather with areas of low pressure skipping from west to east across Iceland and an area of high pressure beginning to build across the UK. High pressure is usually a sign of fair, stable weather, so if you were considering sailing across the English Channel, that would be a good time to cast off, preferably in the summer.
On the other hand, if you were to see a synoptic chart with a deep area of low pressure in the Western Approaches and heading east northeast, as they usually do, you’d be better off battening down the hatches, securing your boat for bumpy weather and heading off down to the pub instead.
The UK shipping forecast is not only a huge part of my life because of my years of sailing, but it’s become a much-loved institution in its own right.
I mention synoptic charts for the simple reason of understanding how the weather is usually predicted. Apps and weather websites will give most people the required information — is it going to rain? Will it be sunny? What temperature will it be? But if you want a more in-depth look at the weather, there are plenty of apps and websites that will satisfy the weather geek in most people. And let’s face it, isn’t the weather always a topic of conversation?
Interesting fact: When I moved to Argentina I had to reprogramme my weather knowledge because, in the southern hemisphere, low-pressure systems rotate clockwise and high-pressure systems in an anti-clockwise direction. The reverse is true for the northern hemisphere.
This is my go-to app for daily weather because the radar shows me where the rain is. It’s as simple as that. Today, as I write this, there’s barely any rain in Argentina, but if I see radar like the following screenshot, I know roughly when the storm will arrive so that I can plan ahead.
Windy provides more in-depth weather information than Rain Alarm allowing you to track wind direction, wind speed, wave height, and numerous other factors. It derives its information from ECMWF, GFS, and others. You also see a reliable weather forecast and I mainly use it for wind speeds. Windy can be found for Android here, iOS here, and the Windy website here.
Although Meteored does have global coverage using the ECMWF model and is based in Murcia, Spain, I find it particularly useful for their weather models which show an animated prediction for seven days as can be seen here. This helps me understand how and when the weather is going to change over a period of time, so if we’re planning a barbecue for next weekend, we can at least be prepared. Android here and iOS here.
Other Sites And Apps
Generally, I just want accurate weather information so I usually avoid sites such as Weather Underground and The Weather Channel because before you know it you’re being distracted by other information and stories, and forget why you were there in the first place.
Weatherbug is very useful for showing live lightning strikes and since Buenos Aires gets its fair share of thunderstorms, this is very handy if you happen to be out and about in a thunderstorm. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be advisable to shelter under a tree with lightning flashing all over the place.
Interesting fact: The US still uses Fahrenheit, the UK uses Centigrade, but both countries still use miles as opposed to kilometers. Many years ago, I used to use Fahrenheit, but I can no longer relate to it at all.
Which weather sites and apps do you use?