NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2012
Track Hurricanes On Your Computer and Smartphone
By Ira Wilsker, Radio Show Host,
Columnist, College Professor and deputy sheriff
(click to email author)

http://www.beaumontweather.com - MY WEATHER PAGE

We are now well into hurricane season, and tropical storms started early this year. Compared to just a few years ago, when we had to manually plot storms on a hurricane map provided as a free hand out from the supermarket, today there is a plethora of hurricane tracking and information sites available online, and as apps for our Android devices, Windows Phones, Blackberry devices, iPads and iPhones. With the ready availability of reliable and current information on tropical weather, there is no longer any reason for any of us not to be fully informed about potential tropical threats.

The granddaddy of tropical weather websites is the National Hurricane Center (NHC) at nhc.noaa.gov. Headquartered in Miami, the NHC is one of the components of the National Weather Service, and is one of the most widely used sources of comprehensive hurricane and tropical storm information. The NHC posts information and easy to understand charts covering storm wind patterns and strength, projected storm path with a 5-day warning cone, and maps displaying potential storm areas that may possibly develop over the next several days. In addition to the webpage, the NHC also offers free tropical weather email alerts, RSS feeds, and a variety of other forms of contemporary notification of potential tropical threats.

There are several private and commercial websites that offer comprehensive tropical weather information, often from independent meteorologists not affiliated with the NHC. One of my personal favorites is the feisty Weather Underground at http://www.wunderground.com/tropical. This commercial website offers excellent maps and charts of potential tropical threats and activities, as well as a wealth of other important and up-to-date information. With its own staff of professional meteorologists posting commentaries, predictions, and explanations of tropical weather events, Weather Underground often provides insights on tropical weather not always available from other, more traditional sources.

Cable and satellite viewers are almost certainly familiar with the Weather Channel, but many may not be aware that the Weather Channel has an extensive online presence at weather.com, with its "Hurricane Central" at weather.com/weather/hurricanecentral. With a professional staff in excess of 200, the Weather Channel and weather.com have the fiscal strength and synergy to produce a first class product. The staff meteorologists, many of whom specialize in tropical weather, provide materials, discussions, opinions, projections, maps, and other tropical weather information not available from other resources. In addition to a web based service, the Weather Channel has one of the most inclusive collections of free weather apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android devices, Blackberry devices, Windows phone, and Amazon's Kindle Fire. In addition to the apps, the Weather Channel will send registered users text alerts and emails notifying them of severe weather threats.

One thing for certain in terms of tropical weather is its uncertainty, and that uncertainty is well demonstrated by the diverse storm track predictions that are made by several of the domestic and foreign weather services. One excellent source that shows these predicted tracks, often going in opposite directions from each other, are the "spaghetti maps" (scatter plots) produced and compiled by the South Florida Water Management District. The projected storm track are called "spaghetti maps" because for each tropical threat, the combination of predicted tracks look like a bundle of tangled spaghetti when they are all displayed on a single map. Storms and developing storm threats are indicated by the internationally assigned storm number, rather than the NHC assigned storm name, and can be viewed from the links at my.sfwmd.gov/sfwmd/common/images/weather/plots.html.

Now that many of us have a variety of smart devices, such as smart phones and tablets, they are a natural for displaying the latest in tropical weather, as we often have these devices with us or in close proximity almost 24/7. The app stores at Play Google (Android), Windows app store, and iTunes (Apple) each offer a wide selection of free and paid apps that are specifically for hurricane tracking and related information and alerts. Regardless of the operating system (OS) used, a quick search for "hurricane" or "weather" on the app page for that OS will display what is currently available. One interesting feature on many of the apps, typically the TV channel and Weather Channel apps is the ability to take weather photos and videos with the device's camera, and instantly upload them to the app host; these photos and videos are often shown on the air, and included in an on-line album.

The Android app store (Google Play Store) offers dozens of hurricane tracking apps, many of which are free and have high user ratings. Some of the better hurricane apps are from local TV stations and newspapers, national news networks, and private companies such as the Weather Channel. The Weather Channel Android app (free) is described by the Weather Channel as the most popular Android weather app, and offers instant alerts for severe weather, videos, and its "iWitness Weather" where users can share weather photos and videos. There are also several tropical weather specific apps that I have on my Android phone, including the highly rated Hurricane Software, Hurricane Hound (free and paid), Houston Hurricanes - KPRC, Houston Weather (KHOU), MyFoxHouston FOX 26, and several Florida based TV stations.

iPhone and iPad users will also find a healthy selection of hurricane related apps, including Hurricane Central, EarthWinds, and The Weather Channel for iPhone. Similar to the Android version, the Weather Channel app may be the most widely downloaded iPhone and iPad weather app. For Apple products, the Weather Channel app includes personalized weather backgrounds that reflect local weather conditions, severe weather notifications, and the ability to upload photos and videos to the Weather Channel and weather.com.

Windows phones also have a selection of available weather and hurricane apps from a variety of sources. The newest of the smart phone operating systems, Microsoft is busy building and compiling a selection of apps to better compete with the availability of Android and iPhone apps. Not surprisingly, what may be the most noteworthy Windows phone weather app with comprehensive tropical weather is that from the Weather Channel. This app includes Live Tile support which can display current radar and weather conditions on the start screen, severe weather alerts, and the iWitness feature for uploading images and videos to the Weather Channel.

With the wide assortment of tropical weather websites and smart device applications available, we may all be better informed about tropical and other severe weather threats. In this particular circumstance, being better informed may literally be a potential lifesaver.

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