Deep Weather: An App Review

I am an unabashed meteorology geek. People who know me personally, know this well. And as such a geek, one of my favorite resources to frequent is the “area forecast discussion” text from the National Weather Service. Each regional office releases them multiple times a day for their area. It’s basically a detailed, paragraphs-long elaboration by the on-duty NWS forecasters about their interpretation of the current conditions, the various computer models, and what those mean for the coming hours and days. I think of it as “the story behind the weather”—or the reasoning behind the forecasts and weather alerts they release. Reading those discussions helps provide valuable context to that “20% chance of afternoon showers” declaration and why they might be wrong. It certainly gives you a huge appreciation for the challenge they face when trying to discern what the future holds even a few hours away!

In any case, I have been using the Weather Alert USA iOS app for quite a while to easily pull up detailed NWS weather data, including the forecast discussions, wherever I am. While a bit quirky, it’s been a great tool, a veritable smorgasbord of meteorological data. I’ve used it almost daily for years.

Sadly, that app has been discontinued, and with the way things change, it’s only a matter of time before a slight tweak in how the NWS delivers their data ends up breaking the app. So I reluctantly decided I’d better explore alternatives.

One option I’d come across before is an app called Deep Weather. It’s much more limited in its scope than WX Alert USA, being intended only to pull and display the forecast discussion text for a given area (defaulting to the current location). Since I have other apps to pull up weather maps and the like (albeit not straight from the NWS), I thought I’d see if it would be a better replacement than simply pulling up the discussion text on the NWS website. So I gave it another look.

Right away, Deep Weather feels promising but lacking in polish. The app’s main screen gives a list of the sections in the most recent forecast discussion for the user’s area. Items in that list can be tapped to be viewed. Once issue I saw is that, regardless of the amount of material a section holds, each list item is very tall. This is clearly done to allow for previews of the text (if any) on the main screen but ends up leaving a lot of white space. I’d rather see a simple list of the section headings that fits without scrolling that I can then tap to delve into—especially since the discussion text is extensive enough that previewing it is of limited benefit (at least in my opinion). The icons in the list are a nice touch, though!

Another nitpick of mine is in how the text of the discussion is displayed: with each sentence as a separate paragraph. I know it’s trying to make it more readable (especially in places where the NWS is still using all-caps), but it makes it harder to follow, since it fragments the flow and breaks up the larger sense of what the forecaster is saying.

The two items above are more in the “polishing nitpick” category. A more egregious issue is that of missing material in the parsed text. For example, I looked at the NWS website this morning and there’s a “SYNOPSIS” section followed by a separate, more detailed “DISCUSSION” section. However, when viewed in the app, the “DISCUSSION” section is completely missing. This makes me very hesitant to rely on it—after all, if it missed something that significant, who knows what else it’ll miss?

It would be great if these issues could be fixed. A stopgap measure in the meantime (and actually something that would be a good and useful addition anyway) would be the inclusion of a “raw view” tool—something that would show you the whole text of the discussion in its original form, on a single page, without any modification. It would be there for those interested but could be easily ignored for those who aren’t. (Developers, consider it, please?)

Overall, Deep Weather is decent, filling a niche that no other actively developed weather app currently does. There’s a good bit of polishing needed in order to make it a more friction-free and reliable tool, but I have confidence that these issues can be easily addressed if the developer chooses to do so. Indeed, if they’re committed to the challenge, they have plenty of room to grow their app into a powerful tool for exploring the fuller “story behind the weather.”

.. .

Sailing solo

I had a very new experience today: I sailed solo. As part of my ongoing effort to keep a part of me out of the engineering building (and because I’ve always wanted to learn), I signed up for a sailing class this spring. It was a once-a-week class in which we learned the theory of sailing and then got out on the lake and actually practiced it. Well, today, a mere six weeks since we started, we had our final class. And to finish up the day (which also included a capsize drill—where we practiced righting a capsized catamaran—and a fairly short written final exam), I stepped alone into one of the small, one-sail “Sunfish” boats the school owns, pushed off from the dock, and set sail. On the second day of class, when we first came down to the lake, I remember being extremely hesitant to even set foot in one of those boats, even with a TA on-board to direct me. Now, there I was, trimming the sail and adjusting the tiller almost as if it were second nature to me. (Almost; I still have a lot to learn about the finer points of adjusting the sail.)

Even though the wind was light, it was an exhilarating feeling being out on the water like I was, choosing where to go and then making it happen by steering the rudder and adjusting the sail to catch the wind accordingly. Just me, the boat, the waves, and the wind. For half an hour, the cares of school and the rest of the world fell completely out of mind, and for the first time in a good while I felt truly free.

Inaugural entry

The beginning of a new month seems like as good a time as any to start up this blog, something I’ve been thinking about and meaning to do for a while now. As the title suggests, I am an engineer—a mechanical engineering student, at the moment. We’re trained to utilize principles from the physical sciences to “make things,” solve problems, and generally improve the quality of life of society. Many engineers revel in the technical details of their work, delving deeper and deeper into their favorite facet of the field. Others, though, like myself, find multiple aspects of engineering interesting, and while our jobs may eventually result in specialization of some sort, we still keep up on what’s going on throughout the discipline.

I aim even more broadly than that, though. For a long time, but especially as I’ve been in college, I’ve taken an increasing interest in all kinds of subjects, everything from writing to dance to biology to politics to sailing. It’s just all so fascinating! In doing so, I’ve noticed that my engineering background gives me a unique take on those subjects. I see things from a perspective few others do, As a result, I occasionally notice things others don’t. At the very least, my inquisitive nature leads to a lot of interesting, even amusing observations.

It’s because of this I decided to give this blog a go. It’ll be a place where I can record some of these observations and put them out there in the great globe-spanning conversation on everything. At the outset I suppose it’s largely for myself, since it will help me organize, set in words, and revisit a lot of my miscellaneous thoughts. But who knows? Perhaps it will end up enlightening, inspiring, or at least entertaining a few others out there, too. Maybe it’ll even spur some to be more inquisitive themselves.

After all, it’s a great way to learn things.