By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
There is no end to the number of WX apps available today for smartphones, and they all do many things. But I'm a big fan of any WX app that does one thing, and does it very well, without all the nonsense that must be tolerated when developers try to pack too many features into their products.
As a WX geek, I have always used the National Weather Service's Area Forecast Discussions, which is a product that presents the detailed opinions of NOAA's weather forecasters on what they think the current, short- and long-term WX will do. These have always been my "secret weapon" that allows me to sound like a WX expert at any party, because I always seem to have the inside line on the real story of what is going to happen outside the windows. Click here to see the area forecast discussion from KPDX for my home region.
I have recently discovered a sweet little app called Deep Weather that aggregates these discussions and reformats them into a clean app that makes them super easy to read. If you have an interest in apps, in the WX, or in discovering how some developers just want to create something that solves a problem, read on...
This is what the NOAA people have to say:
"Everyday, forecasters at NOAA's National Weather Service 122 weather forecast offices across the nation write local weather discussions," said Maureen O'Leary, a Public Affairs Specialist at the NOAA Communications and External Affairs office. "Forecasters write discussions for the public, our core partners including broadcast meteorologist, emergency managers, and the weather enterprise. These discussions support the aviation and marine transportation industries.”
Kristian Ljungkvist, the developer of Deep Weather, is a private pilot based in Ashland, Oregon who flies a 1959 Cessna 180B Skywagon to take his family to backcountry airstrips in Idaho, Montana and other places to camp and hike. Most notable in his logbook is a three-and-a-half week flight up to Alaska this past summer to explore the state's many airstrips.
"For almost as long as I've been flying," Ljungkvist said, "I've relied on the National Weather Service Forecast Discussions to really get a feeling for the weather forecast. They give you the background behind the forecast and help you understand the forecaster's thinking. I was looking for a convenient way to get this information, and also felt that this awesome content could be a little easier to read. The original text is pretty much just a chunk of text with delimiters between the sections. Being a software developer, I decided to write an iPhone app and have it automatically retrieve the latest and closest Forecast Discussion. I also added some parsing and formatting of the text to make it a little easier to read. The response to Deep Weather has been great! It's pretty gratifying to see something that you made for yourself be used by so many others."
While deciphering the WX reports can be a complicated thing, the developer says there is no better way to translate this information than the forecast discussions:
"Each National Weather Service forecast office publishes Area Forecast Discussions alongside the Zone Area Forecast to document the meteorological thinking that went into the forecast," explains Ljungkvist. "Weather is the very definition of a dynamic system and contains so many variables that the best you can do is come up with some sort of probability for what the weather will do. Most published forecasts kind of gloss over this part and instead give you the best guess without any qualifiers. By reading the forecast discussion, you get some insight into what the competing models are predicting and the thinking behind why one was chosen over another. The discussions specifically focus on challenges in the forecast, which give you a better feeling for how the forecast might change, should one of the underlying variables change. I also think the forecast discussions are a great learning tool. I've learned so much over the years by reading the forecast discussion and then looking up terms or concepts I didn't understand."
And as anyone who uses the forecast discussions can tell you, they are much, much more accurate that the news emanating from your TV set. "As most weather-minded folks know," said Ljungkvist, "the weather forecast you see on the news, or on a TAF is based on observations and computational weather models. But multiple models are run in parallel, and the forecasters use their expertise to figure out which model has the highest likelihood of being correct."
As to the work that went into this brilliant app, Ljungkvist says he focused primarily on a clean interface that was easy to use.
"I'm a one-man software development shop, so a fair amount of time went into developing Deep Weather. It's been through quite a few revisions. The current version on the app store is version 2.04 and I'm working on an update for iOS8. A lot of the work that went into Deep Weather was geared toward making it as easy as possible to use. In general that's my philosophy with all the software I make. Just launch it and it will find your location, figure out the nearest forecast office, download the latest forecast discussion, split it up into sections and format it nicely for you."
If you have any interest in weather - and especially if you are a pilot - this is $1.99 well spent. Yes, the app is technically free, with a "Pro" version that removes ads, but spring for the two bucks and help this developer get something for his time and trouble. Frankly, I am finding myself going to it several times a day, and it is worth more than this. So if you want to support aviators who build apps that will help you fly safer, go here and buy the app right now.