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NOAA Hi-Def Radar Gives You the Straight Scoop

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jul 31, 2012 5:00 AM PT

NOAA Hi-Def Radar Gives You the Straight Scoop

NOAA Hi-Def Radar, an app from Geoterrestrial, is available for US$1.99 at the App Store. NOAA Hi-Def Radar

To me, the coolest things about an app aren't so much about the design or buttons or swiping, but how and why you would actually use the app -- the experiences that the app actually enables. NOAA Hi-Def Radar fits right in with me because it's all about showing what's going on in the world of weather all around you.

NOAA Hi-Def Radar lets you view near real-time animated weather radar images on an interactive map. If it's raining, the rain will show up on the map as a green blob. With some time-lapse magic, the app shows how the rain changes over time. So a green blog will get bigger, smaller, more intense. It'll move, disappear or start and stop in a new place depending on the time-lapse timing. You can change the loop speed and number of frames shown, but generally you'll look at what was happening an hour ago, 40 minutes ago, 20 minutes ago, and five minutes ago.

If the rain is more intense -- if it's a wicked storm -- it will show up in shades of red and orange, and their will likely be a bunch of green around it. If you zoom out, you can see all the rain activity in a multi-state window. You can zoom in to get greater detail, and you can choose which Google map form you want to see: Road, Satellite, Hybrid or Terrain.

If you want an actual weather report, you can drop a pin on the map and get an immediate moment and multi-day weather forecast overlay. It works for the United States, Puerto Rico and Guam.

How It Shakes Out

So why is this app handy? The weather forecast is one thing, a static sort of forecast that gives you generalities. NOAA radar, on the other hand, shows you what's really going on. I'm a Northwest kind of guy, and a couple of weekends ago, we were heading up into the mountains to go huckleberry picking. The weather report was scattered thundershowers. So, is it raining? Is it going to rain? Just because it's raining in town doesn't mean it's raining in the mountains, and even if it's raining in the mountains, that rain could easily be on a different mountain five miles away.

At the time, it was raining at a friend's house, and when I went to look outside, it was dark clouds in one direction and puffy white clouds in another -- and a sort of ambiguous swirling mix everywhere else. Temperature? Warm. Plenty warm. And then it started sprinkling.

Was I about to open the door, leave the house and drive an hour and 20 minutes only to find a cold wet mess? It was kind of risky. No one wants to blow a whole Saturday on a hunch.

NOAA Hi-Def Radar to the Rescue

So on this day I pulled out my iPad (works with iPhone, too) and fired up NOAA Hi-Def Radar. I zoomed into the mountain area where we were headed. Sure enough, there was rain there, moving through. Not a lot, but it was there. This proved that, no matter what, we would show up and there would be wet bushes to contend with. Maybe muddy roads. But what it also showed was that the rain wasn't heavy, and that it wasn't hanging over the area. In fact, an hour later that morning when I checked the app again, the whole area was clear. Closest rain was 30 miles away. So we hit the road.

When we arrived, yes, the brush was wet. But no rain. And while we only found handful of huckleberries (too early in the season), we climbed an old fire outlook tower and had a great -- mostly dry -- day anyway.

I Used It Again

The next weekend I was 300 miles from home and called back to talk to a friend. His walnut tree had just lost a bunch of branches during a hail storm. Interesting. Then I received a text message from a friend of a friend who had their home, cars and crops hit by baseball-sized hail. And there was a picture to prove it. Wow. Big hail. Can't imagine being caught out in the open with something like that coming down. Because we were heading into the mountains to go camping on a mountain lake, I pulled out NOAA Hi-Def Radar. Our destination? Nothing. Totally clear. But 150 miles further along, the skies were apparently tearing open left and right. The NOAA Hi-Def Radar app was lighting up and flashing green, orange, and red, red, red like Rudolph crashing Santa's sleigh into a Christmas tree.

Wow. It really was storming back at home. I zoomed in and suddenly I saw all these weird polygon shapes -- triangles and distorted rectangles and pentagons. I tapped one, and a severe storm warning message came up with details. I tapped another and it was a flood watch warning with 39 minutes to go before the danger would pass.

But like I said, the weather was clear where we were heading. So went and had a great time.

And this, of course, is the sort of thing that makes NOAA Hi-Def Radar a great app.

MacNewsWorld columnist Chris Maxcer has been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and he still remembers the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. While he enjoys elegant gear and sublime tech, there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. To catch him, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at

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