I live in South Florida. And while I have no desire to live anywhere else, tropical storms, hurricanes, and otherwise lousy weather are a seasonal fact of life here.
Not even 20 years ago, most people would not have been able to make informed decisions about preparing for tropical storms. But today we have portable GPS, our laptops, our smartphones, and my favorite tool as part of our storm-chaser arsenal -- iPad.
While many of the same types of tools can still be used on a PC or Mac desktop or laptop, I discovered a newfound and real appreciation for iPad and the iOS for this type of application.
The iPad is a particularly good visualization tool for analyzing hurricane tracks because of the device's multi-touch and human-oriented interface and how quickly you can get updated reports on the storm's progress with the different apps out there.
Here's my list of essential apps and websites that I recommend the next time a big storm starts heading your way, so you too can make more informed decisions about whether you stay in place or evacuate.
With hurricanes bearing down, you'll want to be prepared.
NOAA National Hurricane Center (Website)
If you're going to have one application or website that you use for relying on projected storm tracks, then the NOAA National Hurricane Center Website is the one you should have bookmarked on your PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone or other smartphone devices. It costs you absolutely nothing, and if you want to learn about hurricanes, this is the place to go.
The National Hurricane Center is the central source of information that just about every other application listed in this article uses as a data source.
The NHC website contains a massive wealth of up-to-date information. You can track and monitor the progress of every single storm in the Eastern Pacific and the Atlantic, read various types of graphical computer models, and watch animated satellite and radar maps.
Unfortunately, the NHC site looks like it was designed in the early 1990s -- there's no cool Web 2.0 point-and-click GUI, but all the data is there if you want it. They've got a PDA rendered version of the site which you could use on an iPhone or an Android device, but unless you're the type that likes to page through raw data, it probably won't be of much use to you.
However, the basic charts and storm projections should be enough to give you a very good idea of where the hurricane is heading and to give you up-to-date and reliable information on how its behavior might change.
While NOAA has a huge wealth of information, you want to make sure your browser has popup blocking disabled, otherwise you will not be able to click on any of the links which spawn new tabs or new browser windows.
University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center (Websites)
I was recently turned on to the University of Wisconsin's SSEC by Tech Broiler reader and professional storm chaser/photographer Jim Edds.
Jim uses many tools to do his job, but when he wants real-time hurricane data, he heads to the SSEC.
The data above comes from the SSEC's Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) TROPIC website, which you can access on any PC or tablet. Jim likes this site because frequently he is using only 3G service, and he can access a large amount of data quickly without a large download payload.
Like NOAA, TROPIC has a vast wealth of information and you want to make sure your browser has pop-up blocking disabled, otherwise, you will not be able to click on any of the links which spawn new tabs or new browser windows.
Radarscope (iOS, Android $9.99)
Described by Jim as "The ultimate radar application for the iPad" Radarscope is an extremely sophisticated, real-time Doppler radar app for iOS that completely exploits the capabilities of Retina displays on current-generation iPads and iPhones.
It features the ability to select from dozens of long-range doppler radar stations and get data in real-time and also gives you severe weather alerts which you can click on and focus on a particularly dangerous weather area.
Radarscope doesn't do hurricane tracking, but what it does do, it does exceptionally well. If you live in an area where storms are frequent, there isn't another app out there that provides as sophisticated Doppler data that this program has.
MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar
While not as sophisticated radar by default as RadarScope, MyRadar is an excellent all-in-one weather app because it has the ability to composite multiple Doppler radars at once, showing a complete picture of weather patterns for an entire region.
The basic version of the app is advertising supported, but there are in-app upgrades that allow you to open more features, such as a hurricane tracker ($2.99), professional radar ($6.99) and Apple Watch functionality ($.99). Ads can be disabled for an additional fee of $1.99.
NOAA Radar Pro by Apalon Apps
Similar in function to MyRadar, NOAA Radar Pro ($4.99) uses the product data feeds from NOAA to produce composite weather visualizations you can view on your mobile device.
While not as sophisticated as MyRadar with all of the add-ons, I happen to like it because of the clean and straightforward user interface. Hurricane tracking is built in, without needing to add other subscription products, which is a nice plus.
Stormpulse (and Riskpulse) is probably the most advanced of all of the tools mentioned here, but it's likely overkill for the average end-user.
It's more of a professional-level suite intended for businesses to do risk assessments that have facilities in hurricane-prone areas, or for companies that are dependent on shipping and transportation.
The basic tracker is free with LinkedIn login credentials, and the visualizations are very cool.
What other proper hurricane tracking and forecasting apps and websites do you like to use? Talk Back and Let Me Know.