How reliable are different kinds of weather apps?

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Some weather apps work better than others when it comes to forecasting and helping people day-to-day. How can someone determine how accurate a particular app is?

Lindsey Schultze finds the forecast especially important. She has four kids and the weather can oftentimes driver their lives.

“It decides our day basically, whether we go inside or stay out,” she said.

Like many folks, Ayanna Chandler depends on a mobile weather app when she’s on the go. She gets her forecasts exclusively from her phone.

Chandler uses a generic weather app that just gives her the conditions and temperature. But, those apps can be wildly inaccurate.

“All these models are doing is using computer algorithms to figure out what’s happening and what’s going to happen,” says CBS 17 Storm Team meteorologist Brian Hutton Jr. “There’s no human intervention to say ‘That doesn’t look right.’”

A perfect example happened recently in Raleigh. On a bright sunny day, people using a computer-generated weather app to get a forecast were given a tornado warning, but there was no tornado.

“What likely happened is that the radar on the app looked at storms, then derived from an algorithm that say, ‘hey, this looks like rotation,’ and popped out a tornado warning when that was not the case,” said Hutton.

Another feature of some weather apps is the warning that rain will arrive in a user’s location at a certain time.

Again, there’s no human behind that.

“It takes storm ‘A’ and knows where you are based on your GPS, says ‘OK—it’s moving at 50 mph it should be at Steve’s location in 5 minutes’ and pushes that out to you.

The storm might or might not hit the area because there’s no human to interpret what that storm is actually doing and whether it’ll bypass the user’s location of peter out before it hits.

Temperatures, too, can vary widely on computer-generated apps because the app pulls data as the user changes locations.

“It might grab a temperature sensor pumped up to Weather Bug’s network, for instance, that’s in someone’s backyard and might not be calibrated correctly.”

Apps that have real meteorologists behind them, like the CBS 17 Storm Team, allow trained forecasters to interpret the weather data — as opposed to apps one that pump out computer-generated models.

“Sometimes, models are just plain wrong,” said Hutton.

The best rule of thumb it not to rely on an app that just generates random data.

When severe weather or tropical systems threaten an area, use an app that has actual people like the CBS 17 Storm Team inputting the data. They are basing their forecasts on real-world conditions.

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