If you want to see how a bit of science has morphed from a laboratory curiosity to something so common we don't even think about it anymore, take a long hard look at radio waves.
Back in the 1800s all but a handful of scientist even knew waves of electromagnetic force existed. It's was something just beyond our ability to sense directly. As early brainiacs learned to make better use of electricity and devices that make use of it they found that something was causing their new toys to act funny.
Could it be gremlins, ghosts, aliens, inter-dimensional beings, or some unseen, but naturally occurring force messing up their electrics? Being scientists they opted for the latter and discovered radio waves, then found that radio waves bounced off certain objects at certain frequencies, then found that they could detect the objects that radio waves bounced off of.
The next thing you know we are scanning the skies for clouds and rain, probing the depths of our oceans to get topographical maps, creating pictures of distant astronomical formations, and tracking thousands of airborne objects every second of every day. We're also getting ticketed for speeding, heating water for tea, and curing timber all with the help of radio waves.
One of the more useful, and even lifesaving uses of radio waves is weather tracking. Radar technology has gotten so accurate that the average Joe or Jill, equipped with nothing more than his or her iPhone, can predict, with accuracy rivaling the best meteorologists, when precipitation will hit his or her immediate vicinity.
Here in Florida, as in other parts of the country, violent weather is almost a daily occurrence during the Summer months. So much so that most folk ignore the seemingly endless streams of light showers, often not even bothering to raise an umbrella if they are casually dressed. If it's Florida and it's Summer you will get wet. We are concerned about more intense storms, however, and you'll often see people checking maps to find out what's going on weather wise.
I'm going to talk about similar apps today. These freebies could help you decide whether to go singing in the rain or run for cover. So, lets get to it.
MyRadar [14.1 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.1 or later, Aviation Data Systems, Inc.]
There are two apps that I rely on for weather information, The Weather Channel app for forecasts and MyRadar for its real time and very accurate radar map.
You get most of the features you need; temperatures for locations you pick, a spartan 5-day forecast, map type and weather layer selection, and the ability to share your current map with others. And, of course, an active radar map that will let you get right down the the street level. The radar map shows activity for the last hour which, in some areas, may be a bit limiting when you're trying understand where a storm might be heading. But so far an hour seems good enough for Florida where pop-up storms materialize in minutes.
There is one thing about MyRadar that I don't care for: they want you to pay to get weather alerts, which is a free government sponsored service. I can understand asking payment for hurricane info, which is free as well, but not everyone will want it. I can also understand if they withheld alert enhancements for payment such as displaying the alert areas on the map, but to hold back already free weather alerts for payment is, in my opinion, unconscionable. The "Pro" version only removes the ads and requires an additional payment for alerts! This is why I have The Weather Channel app which does provide alerts.
If you need good, accurate radar then give MyRadar a good long look, but beware the alert fees I mentioned above.
World Weather Radar Free [17.4 MB, all iOS devices iOS 5.1 or later, Aviation Data Systems, Inc.]
Another good radar app is World Weather Radar Free. The app is one you'll want to look at because it not only does U.S. weather, but weather from almost any location around the globe. For travelers, this app could be your best friend.
The radar presentation is one of the fastest I've seen on an iPhone, however it will only show updates in 10 minute increments for the past 40 minutes, but it's not as detailed as some other radar maps I've seen. That said, it will show active alert areas on the map!
It's also full of interactive charts that show precipitation amounts, wind speed, temperature variations and more.
You'll get hourly and ten day forecasts and lots of detailed info at a finger flick or tap.
World Weather Radar Free is a covers so much ground that it's impossible to discuss them all here. You'll just have to check it out yourself, which I recommend you do.
Weather Caster [41.3 MB, all iOS devices iOS 4.3 or later, Belo Management ServicesInc.]
If you want another comprehensive weather checker then check out Weather Caster.
In one screen you get current conditions, radar map, what's happening in the next hour, and a seven day forecast. That's pretty cool.
What's really cool is its radar page, which shows active radar weather in your location, but also active radar of weather around your location, and a tap zooms you in for a closer look.
Tap the forecast area and it expands to give you more details. Tap a particular day and it also expands to give you sunrise and sunset info. The same is true for the current weather section.
If you really want to be wowed then tap the top Map section which expands to show you your current location and a static radar display. There's a play button to animate the radar display if you want. Pull down the center tab and you get still more display options.
There's a small ad that disappears when you go into any of the sections. I like this app so much that I'd be willing to pay a buck or two to have it ad-free, but alas, there's no way to get rid of the ads.
If you're looking for a good do-all weather app with good radar, Weather Caster may be it.
And that's a wrap for this week.
Be sure to take a look at this week's free App of the Week, VJay by algoriddim, an interesting music and video mixer app.