Know Before You Go: Weather Tools on the Road

Having the right weather applications on your phone can literally save your life and keep your RV safe. The right apps can alert you to severe weather, as well as send other specific alerts that you may NEED to know.

On several occasions, our custom brew of weather apps have literally saved us tens of thousands of dollars in repairs to our motorhome. Not just one, but three different apps were needed to do so. From tornadoes to polar vortex situations, these apps are influential enough to be a daily influence on how we plan which days we travel and which days we take off. High winds, fog, dust devils, and even northern lights are predicted in many of these apps, which also provide news feeds for mobile travelers. Whether you have an Apple or Android smartphone, or just a laptop, nearly all apps come in web and phone versions.

Web Sites and Their Associated Apps
There are hundreds of weather apps and websites available, and many are affiliated with major weather forecasting websites. Some Smartphone apps are “standalone” applications that get their data from the National Weather Service or even third party sources. Only a few Smartphone apps have a majority of the features you need, and most come at a cost.

Free apps that have good weather features are nearly in-existent these days. A few years ago, most were free of charge. Now, you will have to weather on-screen ads while you navigate the apps, or pay a premium price to go ad-free. If you don’t want to pay for an app, using your laptop and favorite web browser is the way to go. You can also use your web browser on your phone to view these sites, though your ability to see the websites in full view, though you run the risk of missing important information due to the size constraints of your phone, which can defeat the purpose of getting the right information quickly and accurately.

Weather Apps for the Phone
There are an ever increasing number of weather apps for the phone. Here are a few of the most popular apps, along with the pros and cons of each:

Accuweather. Accuweather is one of the original apps on the market. It is made for traditional use at home, and offers tracking for various locations across the country.

Pros: Accuweather has a slew of features for the casual and occasional RV traveler. For a single RV location, it has nearly all the features one could ever want and is very user-friendly. This app is a no brainer for the casual weather app user.

Cons: Accuweather’s Radar features are not very high resolution and it is difficult to get an accurate, real time representation of what is going on. Oftentimes, it will not show the entire frame of a radar display or animate it properly, thus it doesn’t give the up-to-the-minute graphic data you need in a pinch.

The main interface now dedicates an entire page to providing an animated version of what the current weather condition is. By sliding the display up with your finger, you find actual weather metrics. Personally, we think it is easier to know what is going on by looking out the window and having the metrics as the startup screen. The interface is a bit clunky and finding things quickly when severe weather approaches can be tricky.
Accuweather also has a steep ad removal price compared to some of the other apps reviewed.

Storm. Storm is one of the highest rated apps on the market, and comes with the longest list of features of any app on Google Play or in the Apple Store. With Storm, the features most needed by RVers are all right at your fingertips. Storm provides information on how far lightning strikes are from you, as well as changes in wind direction, wind gusts, and more, and sends any active alerts directly to your phone.

Cons: Storm has so many features and options that it may be a little too complex for the casual user. Some of these are hard to find without spending time with the app and hunting around for your favorite features. The other limiting aspect is that the robust radar feature tends to have a delay to the “real time” radar, which means that a storm could be much closer than it appears on the radar. This app also has ads and needs to be purchased as a yearly subscription to make it ad-free like many of the weather apps out there.

Weatherbug. Weatherbug is a more robust, everyday app with many features, including weather news, home power usage, even cost estimates for heating and cooling your home in current weather conditions.

Pros: Weatherbug has recently added location services back to its basic user options, which means that wherever you are, you can get up-to-the-minute weather data using your phone's GPS coordinates, as long as you have a strong cell phone signal.

If you aren’t in need of many of the power-user features of Storm, Weatherbug is just the app for you and has polished graphics to make it appealing for all users, especially if you live in your RV.

Cons: Some users may find this app leans toward the domestic homeowner in its application and less toward the traveling RV enthusiast. Many of its features are directed toward a stationary user and not someone who is frequently on the road like truckers, RVers, or frequent fliers.

Weatherunderground. The Weatherundergound app was a late comer to the weather application race. The app is based on the website of the same name and is now owned by the Weatherchannel conglomerate.

Pros: Many of its features are different from the original version of the app, including some features the amateur meteorologist can appreciate. Several features mirror those on the website and many will recognize the graphics immediately. Radar, 10-day forecasts, and weather metrics are all easily found when the app opens. The app can also send notifications of weather emergencies like most other weather apps currently on the market. It also lists any tropical threats, something most other weather apps don’t normally do, which allows quick access to information on impending tropical Storms or Hurricanes for those on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. The app also shows the distance of the storm to your current location, minute by minute, which is a neat feature!
Its price is also quite reasonable in comparison to other weather apps on the market.

Cons: The Weatherunderground app is a bit difficult to use. Features could be more easily navigable and expansive. The radar is not the latest in radar technology and there's no future radar feature like many other apps have. Control of the radar also isn’t as detailed as other apps, which limits your access to the specific information you need to decide what to do in an impending weather situation.

Tips from an Amateur Meteorologist

My husband Jonathan is an amateur meteorologist in addition to a full-time RVer.These are a few of the tips he suggests.

  1. Have great cell phone service with a great data plan that doesn’t run out. Also check into service areas; the phone is no good to you if it doesn’t have a signal.

  2. Have the newest possible Smartphone; don’t skimp on last year’s model and pay the price later! Remember, you are only as good as your tools. The demands of today’s software and Smartphone innovations require quick micro-processors with strong batteries and capable antennas to receive their cell tower signals.

  3. Get a large display, which allows you to see everything in proper size all at once. What good is information if you can’t see it in an instant? You can also use the phone as a GPS, which is best viewed in a full-screen format in order to see the map and any weather notifications as they occur.

  4. Make sure your phone has great battery life. It's always good to check consumer reviews before buying a phone simply because the same phone model can change greatly from year to year, especially when it comes to battery life. Always do your due diligence to stay ahead of the storm.

  5. When using your phone in inclement weather, bear in mind that your phone is only as strong as your Wi-Fi or radio signal. Without a cellphone signal you, are completely blind. Additionally, even with today's standards and technologies, mountainous areas are still affected when it comes to their reachability by cell phone towers. Always take a NOAA weather radio with warning capability. NOAA weather radios are available nearly everywhere and can save your life when your phone has no signal.

  6. Forewarned is forearmed when it comes to knowing before you go. We've all heard the expression, “Wait 5 minutes and the weather will change!” This is very true, especially in mountainous and plains areas of the U.S. Check the forecast before you depart for a trip, especially those over a thousand miles. On longer trips, you could easily experience various different climates, which means that severe weather is a definite possibility and could even happen when not in the forecast. No matter what season or climate you're traveling in, having a weather radio and smartphone with weather apps is always your best defense.

  7. Having two or more apps on your Smartphone is always a good idea to counteract times when computer servers are slow or have gone down.

  8. Having a couple different apps also allows you to have a redundant system in case one fails. When this occurs, the only way to verify that there is a delay is to compare the images of a few weather radars on your Smartphone. Otherwise, you will have no idea how delayed the radar is and may get caught in a potentially dangerous weather situation.

In Conclusion

Your ability to predict the weather is only as good as the tools you use to get information, much like everything else in life. Having good tools saves money and saves time. And having great and redundant sources is a MUST HAVE when traveling in an RV!
If you found this blog helpful, we recommend checking out a few others like “Storm Survival and Our Story” and “Evacuation Essentials for Your RV.”

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