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The Best Weather Sites
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, air quality information, and allergen reports. Accessing the sites via your computer (versus the associated apps on your phone) will provide better access to the rich data maps 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 three weather sites that met my criteria and would highly recommend: The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, and Weather Underground. 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 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. 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. A weather advisory is clearly visible if there is dangerous weather in your area.
All 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.
The Weather Channel has a clean graphical interface that clearly shows the current temperature, the day's high and low temperatures, an icon for precipitation, and any weather advisories in the main weather box. Below, you'll find the precipitation forecast if relevant. And then, as you scroll down the page, you can dig deeper into the forecast.
The AccuWeather main local weather page has a slight edge over The Weather Channel, with its very prominent weather alert bar and RealFeel Shade temperature, wind speed, and air quality in the main weather box. There's no need to scroll for more. I also like the color-coded precipitation graph, which clearly shows how heavy the precipitation is. If it's rain, you'll see shades of green (light rain) through red (heavy rain). It's not as obvious for snow, but there are shades of blue.
Weather Underground packs a lot of data into a small box, with the current temperature, the current "feels like" temperature, low and high temperatures for the day, wind speed and direction, the radar map, snapshot forecasts for the day, night and next day, as well as an overview of Coronavirus confirmed cases and deceased in the county. It's so dense that the details don't pop as much. The weather advisory is at the top of the page before the ad, so you see it first, but you may scroll by.
Most weather sites have ads that appear on the page and occasionally, and annoyingly, pop up over the content or between pages as you browse. 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).
Some sites offer a range of map data beyond the standard radar map for those who want a deeper dive into the data. 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, making the interface 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. If you want a detailed look at what to expect in the following 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 data like dew point, humidity, temperature, precipitation, and wind. 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 that of 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 find to-the-minute predictions of any expected weather 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 precipitation is expected in the next 120 minutes, and you’ll see how the temperature feels in the shade and 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 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.
AccuWeather is the best if you’re looking for the best at-a-glance short-term local forecast. 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
Weather Underground is the best choice if you need to know 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. 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, the Wundermap, lets you access various 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 videos 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 and 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.
Re-evaluated weather websites and updated the story on 1/24/2022
[Image credit: screenshots via Techlicious, dog with umbrella via BigStockPhoto]