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During boating season, thunderstorm cells can pop up quickly and getting caught unprepared can be dangerous. Having a quality weather app on your phone can help keep your Lowe boat crew safe. Boaters have a multitude of free and low-cost marine weather apps at their disposal to keep them imformed of approaching weather.
How to Read Radar
Radar is the best tool for viewing impending weather activity and warnings. It's found on most weather apps and is commonly color-coded to show the varying intensities of upcoming precipitiation. Reading your radar app is easy and intuitive. Progressively, light green, dark green, yellow, red, and purple identify where the heaviest rain is located. Purple can also indicate hail or debris swept up into the air due to high winds or tornadic activity. Most apps will automatically center the radar display on where your boat is located if your settings allow the app to use your location.
One of the most useful tools for users learning how to read marine radar is the radar animation feature found on many apps. It replays a loop that shows the direction a cell is moving and changes in its intensity. Many apps also show a prediction of where severe weather is likely heading and the anticipated future strength. One thing to watch for is an area where the edge of a cell bulges outward. This often gives notice of very strong winds that can be dangerous to boaters.
Top Marine Weather Apps
Weather underground is free and can be downloaded as an app or accessed online. It's most useful feature for boaters is called WunderMap, found under the Maps and Radar tap at the top. This contains information from over 250,000 public and privately-owned weather stations. It also shows local radar to deliver a detailed, comprehensive view.
RadarScope for Android and Apple users ($10 for the Pro Tier 1 version) has some unique features like the NEXRAD Level 3 reflective radar display. It's also one of the few apps that also has velocity radar, which shows color-coded wind speed and direction. On the display, it shows green for winds coming toward the radar's location, and red shows winds traveling away. When you see bright green next to bright red, it indicates potentially cyclonic activity.
WeatherBug This easy-to-navigate free app has excellent forecast information and defaults to your current location when authorized by the app user. One of it's unique features can be found at the bottom under the tab that looks like a stack of papers. This allows the user to select one of 20 layers to display such as radar (past and future), storm tracker, lightning, and wind speed. The latter shows a color-coded map velocities that are gradated to show intensity in detail.
Before you set out, make sure your bilge pump is in working order and plan ahead to know where you can seek shelter should you be taken by surprise. Don't forget: Weather can change in an instant, so check your radar app periodically. Here's to hoping for sunny skies!