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.”

.. .


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