Our favorite wildfire and weather apps

 

It's springtime in the West, that time of year when brooks babble abundantly with snowmelt, cute baby wildlife prance around verdant meadows, blossoms cover tree branches like virgin snow, and it all goes up in flames. Hoping to keep as close an eye on the burning West as I do on my runs and bike rides, I scoured the Intertubes for the appropriate apps. Zillions of these things saturate the cyber world, and a lot of them are downright duds. But after many a download, I came up with a select few that I can recommend.

WUndergrnd.PNG
Weather Underground's app displays everything you need on its home screen, along with goofy ads.

WEATHER

1. Weather Underground (FREE): This is my go-to weather app, for sure. The home screen has just about all the relevant information you could want: current conditions, forecast for the next several days, radar map, "Find Your Love" ad, and a weather watch/warning icon that displays the entire warning at a touch. The app also has an hourly forecast, which has proven to be fairly accurate. The map screen includes radar, but also a huge network of web cams that allow one to see the weather, just about anywhere, at any given moment, allowing you to track storms across the landscape.

DarkSky.PNG
Dark Sky's interface is minimalist; so is its information.

2. Dark Sky ($3.99): Okay, I'm a cheapskate, and usually just stick with the free apps. But a lot of folks out there in the tech world rave about Dark Sky, so I figured I'd check it out. The interface is nice and uncluttered. The home page simply tells you the current temperature and weather, and what it's likely to do in the next hour, and that's it. The forecast only goes out 24 hours, which is not enough for me. Since the weather hasn't varied from hot and "clear" since I got the app, and may never do so in the future, I can't really speak to the accuracy of the forecasts. The reason I forked out $4 for this was to play around with the crowdsourcing -- it allows you to submit your own weather report, with a photo -- a concept with which I'm interested. There's no way, as far as I can tell, however, to look at the crowdsourced reports or photos from other users. They apparently just integrate your report into their report.

Earlier this year I tried out Weathermob, which is entirely crowdsourced: The only reports they have are from the "mob" out there, which would be you and me. Great idea, not a great execution, in my opinion. It's really more like a weather-oriented social media app than a weather information app, and as much about how you feel than about an accurate accounting of the current weather.

3. Dust Storm (FREE): Wanna know when the next Haboob is going to hit? This app, developed by Northern Arizona University, will tell you, as well as give you helpful tips about what to do once the wall of dust envelopes you. I had hoped that it would allow me to track dust storms as they moved across the Arizona desert or something. But this thing's way more bare bones than that, doing little more than sending you current weather alerts for your area. And that's about it. It could be helpful if you're actually in the path of a dust storm, but not so great for the generally weather-obsessed.

Wildfirepro2.PNG
Wildfire pro shows all active fires on an interactive map, and has detailed info on each incident.

WILDFIRE

1. Wildfire Pro ($4.99), Wildfire Home ($1.99), Wildfire Info (FREE): One needn't search far to find a bevy of apps relating to wildfires. Finding one that's useful is a bit harder, especially if you don't want to pay for it. But Wildfire Info costs nothing and delivers what most of us want: A map and list showing all the active, and some inactive, fires in the U.S., along with details and a perimeter map for each fire. I forked out for the Pro version, which also includes a fire weather overlay map, weather/fire danger calculators, and other stuff that a fire fighter might need, even if I don't. It appears that the info is not updated quite as often as the Inciweb site for some fires, but it's never more than 24 hours old for active fires.

2. Wildfire from American Red Cross (FREE): If you live in the wildland urban interface, this might be the app for you. It allows you to monitor as many areas as you choose, and sends alerts when there are fires in those areas, along with a detailed description of the fire. It gives a check list of what to do as the fire approaches, a "toolkit" that can instantly turn your phone into a flashlight or strobe light, an immediate link to the Twitter feed for particular fires and to various social media to do a quick notification letting friends know you're safe.

I also tried out Burnt Planet because, well, who could resist a name like that? Relying on data from Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometers aboard NASA satellites, it pinpoints "hotspots" -- which could be wildfires or someone burning their field -- around the world. It's good for a broad, global overview, but that's about it. There are no data about individual fires.

Now, I know what you may be thinking: These apps are just another waste of time thrown at us by the Internet, like our "friends" telling us on Facebook what they had for breakfast; a high-tech form of voyeurism -- worse, disaster voyeurism -- that draws us into our electronic devices and sucks us away from the real world. After all, I can figure out the weather simply by stepping outside. And if a fire's approaching, I'll see the plume of smoke long before my gadget sends me a warning--if I bother to look up from my phone's glowing, beckoning little screen, that is.

Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor at High Country News. His Twitter handle is @jonnypeace.

High Country News Classifieds
  • BACKCOUNTRY FILM FESTIVAL MANAGER
    Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance is looking for an experienced and highly motivated individual to organize our annual Backcountry Film Festival and Tour and coordinate additional...
  • LAND CONSERVATION MANAGER
    SUMMARY Leads, administers and manages the land conservation, conservation easement stewardship, and property management activities of the City of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department within...
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM ATTORNEY, NEVADA
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a Staff Attorney who is passionate about Western communities and the protection of the natural environment to...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Deschutes River Conservancy in Bend, Oregon
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.