Fair weather friends

Just how much can you rely on your weather app? And how do they work, anyway?

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Photo by Edna Harry

Just how much can you rely on your weather app? And how do they work, anyway?

It was a typical Berlin summer scene. With the sun beating down and not a cloud in the sky, some friends and I nabbed the last coveted spot outside Umami one Friday evening. But no sooner had we started tucking into our summer rolls than the weather took an ominous turn. Large, dark clouds had seemingly appeared from nowhere and were now rapidly coming our way. While other diners started to see about ducking for cover, my friend remained resolute. “According to my phone, it’s not supposed to rain for another hour,” she said confidently.

Before we’d finished arguing about whether to move inside or not, the storm had indeed blown over. My head, though, was still in the clouds, wondering to myself who makes these apps and how accurate they really are.

While it’s probably no surprise that many of the best-known weather apps, like the Weather Channel or Yahoo Weather, are based Stateside, I learned that Berlin of course has contenders of its own, like WeatherPro and RainToday, which were developed in the depths of Adlershof by a team from MeteoGroup Germany.

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RainToday uses German radar for its predictions.

RainToday works by using data, in this case real-time radar images purchased from the German Weather Service. Developed after three years’ research, the app’s algorithms process the information and filter out the so-called ‘blur’ to show the likelihood of rain. The resulting no-frills app shows real-time alerts and a video animation which tracks the movements of rain clouds. While the information does indeed prove pretty accurate, it only shows up to 60 minutes in advance – not so good if you’re at home and wondering whether to pack an umbrella. The ads at the bottom of the app screen can get pretty annoying, too.

I had the chance to put RainToday and my in-built iPhone weather app to a very unscientific test, when one day, sitting in a park and seeing grey clouds overhead, I sensed that rain was imminent. My app, which shows weather at hourly intervals, predicted rain at 7pm. At quarter past, the heavens opened and I took cover under some trees – after all, RainToday predicted that it would be over in five minutes. And it was. Nicht schlecht.

WeatherPro, meanwhile, gives a more rounded weather update, perfect to track all the conditions a Berlin summer’s day can throw at you, with current observations, a seven-day forecast and of course a rain radar map. Apparently WeatherPro is one of the most widely-purchased iPhone apps of all time, and it does provide far more information than the built-in weather app. Perfect for a weather-obsessed Brit like me. But then, while the free version does provide all the information you’d need to plan your day, the interface is cluttered and I found it a bit clunky to navigate, especially when I kept accidentally clicking on the adverts. A paid Premium version, promising extra features and no ads, is available on the App Store for €2.99. Android users can also find both apps in the Play store.

I checked both apps a few more times. On a recent evening, they all predicted dry weather, but then it did rain (light showers). Two days later, both WeatherPro and RainRadar prognosed heavy rain and saved me from getting a soaking when I popped out to get lunch. So what to think? While on the whole, weather apps are getting much more accurate and detailed with every tech advance, most seasoned Berliners know that the summer here is unpredictable at best. My tip: if in doubt, just bring an umbrella!