Old Problem, New Solutions

On Tuesday, the Weather Channel announced a new kind of storm alert. Instead of interrupting television programming and radio announcements like the National Weather Service, its website now invites users to post personal weather warnings to their friends’ Facebook Timelines.

It’s not just weather.com reinventing the weather report. Among startups and app developers, new takes on weather apps have become something of a trend. What follows is a look at the sharpest solutions.

Though it may never be sexy, weather is in many ways a perfect topic for the digital way. Since the beginning of time, it has been social, hyperlocal and mobile--all of the web’s favorite buzzwords rolled into one.

“When you’re born, the first thing you know is, ‘is it hot?’ ‘Is it cold?,'” EVP of Digital Product Cameron Clayton tells Fast Company about the inherent appeal of weather. “Your senses are attuned to it, it’s fundamentally important to human beings, and it’s inherently social.”

Ourcast: Weather Predictions Via Big Data

Ourcast doesn’t have a single meteorologist on its staff. What it has are data scientists. The app uses real-time radar data to predict, based on historical patterns, the movement of weather patterns within a two-hour timeframe.

This is the same kind of statistical modeling that meteorologists have long depended on. But meteorologists also use their understanding of the atmosphere to pinpoint where the pattern is likely to veer off its predicted course – for instance, during a storm.

Weathermob: Social Weather

The most classic of conversation topics now has an online counterpart. Weathermob facilitates short weather status updates by asking users to fill in the blanks after "The weather is...", "I'm feeling..." and "It's the weather for.." An option to add a video or photo make the resulting news feed feel more like Instagram than a weather report.

Weddar: Crowdsourced Weather

The potential of crowdsourced weather reports hasn’t yet been realized.

Clayton compares it to crowdsourced traffic. “If you asked people to self-report what the traffic was like all over the country, would it work? Probably not, because you would only get the bad things,” he says. “But if you do it how Google does it--by tracking the movement of Android phones in cars--it could be super accurate.”

But he still thinks apps that crowdsource the weather, like Weddar, are on to a trend that--with better data and scale--will become a viable way of predicting the weather.

The Weather Channel put some money behind the idea when it acquired Weather Underground, a site that makes forecasts based on reports from home weather stations, earlier this month.

Brisk: Color-Coded Weather Reports

What if your local news changed the color of its studio backdrop to convey the weather report? What sounds crazy on TV actually works on the iPhone.

Brisk, an iPhone app due for release in the coming weeks, displays the temperature at a different point in its warm-to-cool color gradient UI depending on how it feels outside.

The Weather Channel: A Social Media Storm Alert System

Weather.com launched a new system for social storm warnings on Tuesday that uses Facebook’s open graph. It shows users which of their Facebook friends live in areas where there are severe weather alerts and gives them an opportunity to post appropriate warnings on friends’ Timelines.

Dark Sky: Hyper-Hyper-Local Forecasts

Dark Sky has reinvented weather forecasts by taking “hyper-local” to heart. The app shows you what the weather is now, where you’re standing and gives a down-to-the-minute countdown of when it will rain in the next hour.

WTHR: The Simplest Weather Report Ever

Forget settings, radar maps and anything that isn’t absolutely necessary to a quick-glance of the weather. WTHR, designed around Dieter Rams’s famed 10 Principles of Design, is just one simple screen. It gives looking up the weather forecast the same simple accessibility as checking a compass.

Optimistic Weather: Niche Forecasting

Some would rather hear good news than true news, and--thanks to the relatively low resource commitment required to make an app--there's a weather app just for them.

Optimistic Weather shows the accurate forecast for today, but it always, no matter what, predicts that tomorrow will be a beautiful day.