The Best Weather Sites
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The first thing I do in the morning is to check the weather forecast. With the recent wacky weather, I need to be armed with the forecast to head off the inevitable complaints from my boys when I hand out hats and gloves.
Weather sites these days deliver much more than just the high and low temperatures and whether you need an umbrella or gloves. They provide hyper-local, minute-by-minute precipitation graphs, emergency weather alerts, and air quality information, including allergen reports. And accessing the sites via your computer (versus the associated apps on your phone), will provide better access to the rich data maps that the best sites provide.
There are many weather sites to choose from, so I spent the last few weeks visiting weather sites to find the ones that deliver the best experience based on forecast accuracy, design, and depth of information. I found four weather sites that met my criteria and which I would highly recommend: The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, Weather Underground, and Dark Sky. For most people, The Weather Channel provides the at-a-glance information you need with rich data and interesting weather stories. Specifically, here’s what I considered.
Weather forecasts are based on data that is collected by weather stations and other sources from around the world. That information is fed into supercomputers that generate the forecast based on weather models. The best weather sites use weather models with accuracy rates that hover around 85 percent. For any given location, though, one site's weather model may have better local data than another. This is especially true for sites that include data from personal weather stations.
According to research by Forecast Watch, a company that tracks forecast accuracy, The Weather Channel (aka Weather.com) and AccuWeather consistently rank at the top for forecast accuracy in the United States. However, Dark Sky and Weather Underground also consistently rank highly and may have more local data for your area (the list below shows forecast accuracy for Lewiston, ME). You can see who ranks highly in your area at Forecast Watch's ForecastAdvisor.
The best sites let you see the day’s forecast at a glance, including temperature highs and lows, how cold it feels (the “real feel”), and whether you’ll need an umbrella later in the day. If there is dangerous weather in your area, a weather advisory is clearly visible.
All of the best sites have graphical elements that clue you in immediately about important weather information. The temperature, precipitation and any weather alerts are hard to miss.
Most weather sites have ads, which appear on the page and, occasionally and annoyingly, pop up over the content or in between pages as you browse. Dark Sky is the only free site on my list that doesn’t have any ads. The Weather Channel, AccuWeather and Weather Underground all have ads, but there are few pop up ads. The Weather Channel offers an option to go ad-free with a premium subscription ($4.99 per month or $29.99 per year).
For those that want a deeper dive into the data, some sites offer a range of map data beyond the standard radar map. The Weather Channel and Weather Underground, which are both owned by The Weather Company, have the richest sets of map data. However, The Weather Channel's map has more data sets to view than Weather Underground and the interface is easier to use and read.
The overall best weather site: The Weather Channel
The Weather Channel is the best weather site for most people, offering an accurate forecast that’s easy to read, high-quality weather-related news, and an interactive map that is easy to use and delivers a lot of detailed information. While there are ads, they don’t significantly detract from the viewing experience, and you can choose to go ad-free with a premium subscription ($4.99 per month or $29.99 per year).
Forecast Watch consistently ranks The Weather Channel among the top three for weather forecast accuracy, making it a good choice for your local weather and when traveling. I like the fact that there is a favorite cities bar at the top of the page that automatically populates as you search for weather, so you can easily toggle between places. And, it’s easy to remove a city once it’s no longer a top priority. If there is an active weather advisory, there is a colored circle (yellow, orange, or red) with the number of advisories that is available on all pages. And if you want a detailed look at what to expect in the next hours, the Hourly page provides forecasts at 15-minute increments for an hour for the free service and up to two hours for the premium service.
The Weather Channel has an easy-to-use interactive map that lets you take a deep dive into weather data, including information from personal weather stations in your area. Choose your map style from light, dark, satellite or grayscale. Then choose the main map layer from radar, clouds, temperature, wind speed, dew point, UV index, infrared satellite, driving difficulty and more. After that, you can add other other data like dew point, humidity, temperature, precipitation, and wind, among others. You can also toggle on sightings of local area lightning and wildfires, turn on official marine, flood, tornado, and other official watches and warnings, view storm tracks, and data collected from personal weather stations. If you pay for a premium subscription, you can also access 24-hour future radar, a 30-mile lightning map layer, and windstream data (the screenshot below shows the premium service).
As a weather news outlet, The Weather Channel offers timely weather stories and videos. Plus, there’s a whole section devoted to beautiful and interesting photos. The depth of weather news is greater than other weather sites.
The Weather Channel does the best job of providing both quick at-a-glance weather information and more in-depth content, making it my top pick for the best weather site.
The best weather site for hyperlocal forecasts: AccuWeather
Of all the weather sites, AccuWeather does the best job of delivering your local forecast. Like The Weather Channel, AccuWeather consistently ranks within the top three sites for forecast accuracy. In addition, it has a proprietary forecasting tool that provides a highly-precise hyperlocal near-term forecast, which AccuWeather calls Minutecast. Through Minutecast, you’ll to-the-minute predictions of any weather that’s expected in the next 120 minutes. So, if you want to know if you have time to walk the dog before the rain starts, Minutecast provides a quick answer.
Finding your local forecast is just a matter of searching. Once you’ve searched for a location, it will appear as a suggested location when you return, making it easy to click into your local forecast. AccuWeather’s local forecast page has a clean, easy-to-read design. There you’ll find an overview of the day’s weather, a weather alert from Minutecast if there’s precipitation expected in the next 120 minutes, and you’ll see how the temperature feels in the shade as well as the sun.
AccuWeather’s maps are limited to radar, satellite, current conditions (meaning temperature), and severe weather (which you can top into to see the alert). Like The Weather Channel, you can view past weather as well as the predicted weather.
AccuWeather provides detailed air quality data, including the level of particulate matter at two sizes (less than 10 micrometers and less than 2.5 micrometers), nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ground-level ozone. You can also view air quality maps and an hourly air-quality forecast.
For news, AccuWeather has a blog that’s written by its staff of weather experts, which range in specialties from regional weather to astronomy and climate change. You’ll also find videos produced by AccuWeather and taken from across the web. The selection isn’t as deep as The Weather Channel, but there’s plenty to watch.
If you’re looking for the best at-a-glance short-term local forecast, AccuWeather is the best. The site has a clean (though ad-supported) interface and gets you in and out armed with exactly what you need for the day.
If you need access to specific weather stations: Weather Underground
If you need to now the weather on the top of a ski mountain, along the coast where you will be boating, or near a field for your son's afternoon soccer game, Weather Underground is the best choice for you. The site will automatically pull from weather stations near your current location, but you can select Change next to the weather station name and select any station from its database of more than 250,000 sites. I've used the feature to check the conditions at the top of the mountain when skiing and the forecast for the tiny island where we vacation in Maine. In many locations, especially more rural areas, Weather Underground is ranked highly by Forecast Watch.
Finding your local forecast is as easy as allowing the site to see your location and pull up the nearest station, or you can search for your city. If you regularly check the weather in a variety of locations, you can create a Favorite Cities list. Your local forecast will show the forecast for the day and local radar. Weather advisories show up in a bar at the top of the page.
The interactive weather map on Weather Underground, called the Wundermap, lets you access a variety of weather information, including temperature, wind speed and direction, dew point and humidity, and precipitation. You can also toggle on storm tracks, lightning, and active wildfires, among other data. You can look at current, past, and future readings as a video showing changes over time.
Specialized forecasts are limited to Pollen, air quality, and UV index, which you can find right below the local forecast. Clicking on any rating will take you to a page with pollen data broken down into types of pollen, a map that shows fine particulate matter readings and UV risk based on skin type.
Weather Underground staff produces some weather news stories and videos, plus it pulls content in from The Weather Channel. You won’t find the depth that The Weather Channel has, but you will find plenty of stories and videos to keep you up to date.
If you want to know where your weather data is being collected, or want to use your own weather station, Weather Underground provides the best combination of an easy-to-read forecast with rich weather data and news when you want more information.
The cleanest interface for those who hate ads: Dark Sky
For a clean, ad-free weather site experience, Dark Sky delivers the best experience. The site, which was acquired by Apple in March 2020, has a spartan design that uses text, colors, and icons to deliver your local forecast in a compelling way. Dark Sky isn’t as consistently ranked for weather forecast accuracy as The Weather Channel and AccuWeather, but it does rank well in many locations, so be sure to check your location on ForecastAdvisor.
On your local forecast page, you’ll find your daily forecast, UV index, information on notable upcoming weather (such as rain or severe weather), a moving graphic of any forecasted precipitation, and your local temperature map. Weather advisories show up as red text above your forecast.
The weather temperature map on your local forecast page can be changed to show cloud cover, precipitation radar, wind speed, ozone, dew point, and more. The maps don’t move, but you can select different times of day and dates to see how the weather will change.
Dark Sky doesn’t provide any specialized forecasts or news stories and related videos.
If you’re looking for a free ad-free visually-clean forecast, Dark Sky is the right site for you. It doesn’t have the resources of the other sites on my list, but when all you need is the forecast, you can be in and out in seconds.
Re-evaluated weather websites and updated the story on 1/24/2022
[Image credit: screenshots via Techlicious, dog with umbrella via BigStockPhoto]