Accurate forecasts and more, at your fingertips
Paid weather apps offer services and accuracy above and beyond free apps.
The best things in life are free, or so the saying goes. But when it comes to weather forecasting apps, that sentiment is not necessarily the case.
Jim Foerster is director of meteorology services for DTN, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based provider of information and solutions to weather-sensitive industries including events, agriculture, oil and gas, aviation and trading. There are differences between free weather apps and paid weather apps, he says, and those differences are key for anyone who makes decisions regarding public safety during weather events.
A typical free weather app combines forecasts with some sort of visual component such as radar, Foerster says.
“It’s referred to as ‘commodity weather,’” he says. “It’s generally pretty easy to produce, particularly in the United States, where a lot of that information is shared by our government.”
Free weather apps take weather information from pubic sources and package it, making money through advertising or selling other services through the app, Foerster says.
A paid app, on the other hand, offers additional services. For example, in a paid app, an alert can be set up to warn the user that in one hour, the heat index will hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This gives the user time to take action, “rather than looking at [a free] app, and all of a sudden it’s too late to do something.”
“Real-time lightning is a good example,” Foerster continues. “You are never going to find that in a free app. It’s probably going to be delayed. You don’t necessarily know it, but it probably is.”
Real-time lightning information is especially valuable to event producers who have to make decisions about when to evacuate an event and when it’s safe to resume activities. Most lightning injuries happen at the beginning or end of a storm, Foerster says, when people either wait too long to stop what they are doing or go back outside before it is safe.
“Those are the two areas you have to focus on as an event organizer, that you don’t wait too long [to evacuate] and that you absolutely realize that just because the rain stopped, there is still a lightning threat. Generally, 30 minutes after you last hear thunder, it’s safe to resume.”
A very accurate wind forecast is another service a paid app can provide, which is especially important where tents are concerned, he says.
“You don’t want to wait until that wind or a really strong thunderstorm is on top of you, and then you have no chance to get away from it and everyone panics,” he says. “That’s not a good way to manage a severe weather event.
“If I know that your threshold for wind is 65 miles an hour, I would alert you 90 minutes before, 30 minutes before—whatever you want—so you would do what you have to do.”
Weather forecasts today are highly accurate, with a level of sophistication that wasn’t seen even 10 years ago, Foerster says. And, to justify its costs, a paid service has to be more accurate than a free service, providing information on a timeline that allows decision makers to take action.
“A weather forecast has no value until somebody can do something with it,” he says. “I’m not going to say, ‘It’s going to be really windy on Wednesday, so you might want to keep an eye on things.’ I’m telling you when to stop. And when it comes to lightning, I’m telling you, 30 minutes after the last strike, now you can go ahead and resume activities. The more you can connect the weather forecast to actionable decision making, the more likely you are really solving the problem people have in the tent business.”