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Apps, Handheld Devices Offer Assistance with Weather Decisions

By Steffen Parker on March 10, 2016 hst Print

While these methods may still work, licking your finger to test the wind direction or remembering your ninth-grade Earth Science class to determine what the clouds overhead will do may not be the best ways to consider how the incoming weather will affect your upcoming athletic event or activity. Given the importance of weather as it relates to outdoor school functions – ranging from safety through audience comfort to whether or not the event should proceed – decision-makers need to avail themselves of more information than the clouds and a damp digit can provide.

In addition, to make accurate decisions the information must be timely and localized. Fortunately, technology has made weather forecasting not only more definitive, but more accessible in terms of equipment needed and funding required.

When considering the implications of the upcoming weather on your outdoor practice, contest or special function, there are three concerns that may deserve your attention: Precipitation, Lightning and Heat Stress Index. Current technological offerings have two ways to monitor each of these: smartphone apps and weather-specific handheld devices. And like all things electronic, no one solution does a great job at all three tasks.

Handheld devices provide more accurate current data because they are designed to capture and analyze a variety of weather factors occurring at that time at the device’s current location. This is advantageous for determining the Heat Stress Index and thus deciding when it is unsafe to proceed with the activity at hand. Using the humidity and temperature to determine how well the human body would be able to sweat (and thus cool itself), the Heat Stress Index displayed simply indicates when it is too hot and sticky to exercise. Most of these devices display wind speed, dewpoint, wind chill and other factors long with the Heat

Stress Index – information that can be used for other decisions as well.

When looking to purchase a weather-specific handheld device, here are some features to consider:
• Weatherproof
• Location humidity recalibration (can reset the humidity scale based on where you are)
• Backlight display
• Battery life (and ease in finding replacement battery)
• Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (a way to measure Heat Stress Index in the sun as opposed to the shade)
• Heat Stress Index in easy-to-read format
• Pressure trends (to help predict the weather)

Such devices range from under $100 to more than $500 with a full-feature, quality unit available in the middle.

You can also purchase a handheld weather radio that will let you listen to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) system of broadcast signals that give the weather for your region on a repeating cycle. Most locations have at least one, if not several frequencies for this broadcast. And there is an app that provides NOAA weather radio right on your smartphone.

However, a more in-depth analysis of what the weather will be like in 10 minutes, this afternoon or tomorrow is often needed, and that’s where one (or more) of the many smartphone apps should be considered. Because of their connection to the Internet and thus the computation capacity of those providing data for the sites accessed, these apps are best for predicting incoming weather and the evaluation needed to make the tough decision to postpone an event. Most local television stations have a weather app that likely uses NOAA forecasting, and NOAA has a website setup for mobile devices that is fairly comprehensive.

There are literally hundreds of weather apps available, with most being free (with some ads) but a few costing up to $10. Most provide NOAA information in one manner or another, but some do their own analysis and predictions (Wunderground is the most notable of these, with both an app and a website that contain significant information and quality forecasting). When considering a weather app, look for ones that have some or all of these features:
• Past and future color radar
• Hour-by-hour forecasts including temperature, humidity, wind direction and speed, precipitation
• Location services (uses the smartphone’s current location)
• Dewpoint
• Sunrise and sunset times
• Weather alerts and warnings

Because these apps are inexpensive, having more than one to help you make your decisions is possible. Make sure to use two that have different sources for their predictions (NOAA and Wunderground for example). And your smartphone’s web browser can also be used to seek other opinions when a weather decision needs to be made.

To track lightning, you can find a weather app that includes lightning information along with the other data you need, but there are also several apps that track lightning specifically, most of them for under $1. When seeking a lightning-specific app, look for one that has push notification (for lightning warnings) as well as a distance calculator (to help determine if a storm is coming towards you or going away).

While there is no foolproof way to determine whether the weather will adversely affect that day’s event, having current and localized information with which to make that decision is now not only easier than ever, but more accurate. Every decision-maker should be prepared with the technology tools he or she needs to make the call at the right time.