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The weather may not be fine outside the window. Nonetheless, when I look at my computer screen at this remarkably well-designed web application, I can’t help but marvel. Weather apps are getting some good treatment at the hand of designers. My friend, Dave posed a winter question – What Are The Best Weather Websites? The weather websites listed are some of the most well-known ones. Greatly informative…but conservatively designed. I think smartphones spoilt us with their beautifully designed weather apps. Mac might have its widgets, but Windows isn’t far behind with its weather apps for the desktop.
Let’s get back to the web. A weather forecast website should be designed to make gloomy weather a bit palatable. The appropriately named Forecast.io ticks most of the boxes; including the one that says – elegance. Take the first look at its interface, and I am sure you will agree with me that good design matters. By the time we end this article, I hope you will agree that good design and easy-to-grasp weather data without dumbing it down, matters more.
A Weather Service for All Devices
Forecast.io is designed for use as a web application. It also has mobile versions of the site which are equally fluid. The same thought to design has been put into all three platforms. Forecast also provides its API for commercial and non-commercial use. Developers can use the API for any location based forecasts in their own applications. Forecast is a full-featured weather service that covers the globe for seven days a week, 365 days a year. Its antecedents lie in Dark Sky, an app for the iPhone and iPad, and a successful Kickstarter project.
The Data Sources: A weather application can only be good as its data sources. Forecast taps into 16 data sources like the U.S. NOAA and the U.K. Met Office among others. The application collates the weather models and statistically processes it for display. Weather information can get intricately complex; something the normal person on the street might have no use for. Forecast uses beautiful visualizations to simplify the information, but it also knows that a certain section has need for more detailed minute-by-minute weather information for special occasions like sailing or fishing. Details are hidden for the sake of simplicity, but are also a click away.
Your Local (and Global) Weather – Visually
I did say that the web application is beautiful and elegant. That’s a combination difficult to achieve always. Forecast has managed to condense all the vagaries of the weather with some stylish visualization. The app can auto-detect your location and presents the immediate information front and center. Clicking on the + icon next to Right Now breaks down the weather to its variables – wind, humidity, visibility, and pressure. The movement of temperature is always worth noting, especially in humid areas like the one I am in.
The weather globe that displays rapidly developing weather fronts is the centerpiece, or at least the one feature which draws the eyeballs. The animated globe is actually a weather radar visualization that is helpful to understand how storm systems will develop and evolve world-wide.
You can scrub up to a week into the future using the slider to see how weather fronts will potentially develop across the next seven days. Give the slider a few seconds to load. You can also drag the grey pin to different areas on the globe and explore the weather there.
Forecast pares down the complexity of the weather data with easy-to-understand text summaries as you can see in the screen below. The little animated icons (made with HTML5) are a nice touch. But there’s more below the surface.
Click on the text summaries to reveal the specific details. The prediction engine gives you the 24-hour picture quite graphically. I liked the fact that the color codes give me an idea of the time window for the specific weather variation.
The Time Machine
Weather records from the past (nearly a 100 years) have reportedly gone into creating this prediction engine which can not only explore the past weather at any given location but also give you statistical forecasts for any day in the future. Forecast.io cites an example – For example, say you have an outdoor family reunion in 6 months: with the time machine, you can see what the likely temperature and precipitation will be at the exact day and hour.
It’s important to note that the feature is experimental and we are talking about the “weather” after all.
The Weather’s Fine
So is the app. Forecast (and its mobile versions accessible with a web shortcut) should appeal to the family which wants to just look-up the weather without getting mired in too much data. The visual chutzpah is just the magnet to make this application reserve a bookmark all for itself. Once you start using it, it’s only a matter of time before you go into the details and make yourself a bit more weather literate. I am a normal guy who just wants to know if I should pack my windcheater or grab my sun lotion. It would be really read worthy for someone knowledgeable about meteorology to give this application a once-over in the comments.
What do you think about Forecast.io? Is it one of the more polished weather apps around? If not, tell us about your favorite.