'Help! I've become a weather app addict!'

What started as a brief escape from the monotony of lockdown has become an obsessive search for the perfect forecast

“Looks like good weather this week”, said an unwitting friend to me on Monday. “Yes, highs of 28 degrees celsius on Monday with a very low chance of precipitation”, I replied. She looked at me blankly, not realising that over lockdown I have become a weather-watching obsessive.

I promise I wasn’t always like this. Pre-Covid, my meteorological interest extended to checking the forecast on a grey day to see if I needed an umbrella. That was it.

But from March it all changed. The start of lockdown was so bleak, so monotonous – a constant wheel of work, exercise, eat, sleep and fret – that I found myself checking my phone's weather app nearly every hour. By knowing whether there was sun or rain, I could mark one day from the next. A small victory in a sea of sameness.

Soon, my furtive glances at my phone's weather app had taken on the thrill of gambling: would I be hanging out my washing today, or reaching for my umbrella to take my lockdown-permitted stroll? This is what happens to my brain after three months without social contact. It melts.

I don’t think I’m alone in my weather app addiction. People around me report the same experience: like me, they've tried multiple apps and, like me, they've found themselves checking them more often, even looking at the weather in places where they are not.

Why? Surely one answer is that we're just more connected to the weather this year, because we're closer to it. For years, a large slice of the country has worked in large offices, where we're often sat so far from a window that we wouldn’t know if there had been a thunderstorm. For the first time in years, I’m now spending my working hours outside – at a desk in my garden. I watch the sun rise, I watch the sun set. All on my weather app, of course.

Here's what I've learned as a seasoned weather app watcher...

Ditch the free weather apps...

The Apple Weather app is only ever ballpark correct. It can tell you if there is a rainy day coming up this week, but it has a lot of trouble working out which day that will be. 

The inaccuracy of the app actually caused me quite a bit of heartache in lockdown. When we were allowed to meet up one-on-one outside, my boyfriend and I went to a park for a socially-distanced picnic on a day when Apple Weather promised beaming sunshine. 

About half an hour in, a harsh wind came out of nowhere. One moment, my boyfriend was holding a paper plate with cake and custard. The next, the wind picked it up and slapped it onto his face like a clown getting hit with a cream pie. He peeled the plate off his face and found his fringe glued to his forehead and smelling like vanilla. I refreshed the Apple Weather app, which told me that we were currently experiencing fine weather and temperatures in the mid 20s. 

That moment was honestly very funny – but the rest of the day was just a bit sad, sitting under a dark sky when we’d been promised sun, not being allowed to kiss. 

There are two morals to that story. Firstly, don’t eat custard in a storm. And secondly, look beyond the free weather apps that come with your phone. 

... And find a better one

After my trials with Apple Weather I switched to using the BBC Weather app, which seemed to be far more accurate in my area. It has other delightful bells and whistles, like being able to pick out a pretty detailed location for you via GPS.

If you have £3.99 and several hours to waste, download Dark Sky, which can give you a forecast detailed enough to pick out your street. But honestly, be careful with it, as it is easy to lose a lot of time watching how a rain cloud favours one side of town to another. 

(Side note: Dark Sky was bought in March by Apple, so you can’t download it onto an Android device. Sorry, weather watchers.)

From left to right: Dark Sky, AccuWeather, Apple Weather Credit: Apple/ AccuWeather

Another popular app is the American-owned app, AccuWeather. It gives you a nice radar view of the weather in your area, and is normally pretty, well, accurate (see what they did there?). But AccuWeather, in the mind of this weather app addict, has a cloud hanging over its head.

Firstly, in 2005 Republican Senator Rick Santorum – who was backed by campaign funds from AccuWeather –introduced a bill that would have prevented the US state weather service from competing with commercial outlets. Its detractors said the bill would reduce the public's access to taxpayer-funded weather information, and might leave you needing to pay to find out if it would rain.  In the UK, could be seen as a bit of an annoyance but nothing more; in the US, where tornadoes and hurricanes can threaten lives, it's a more serious matter. Arguably, weather info should be available to all.

Secondly, in 2017 a US federal investigation alleged that the company had a major issue with sexual harassment, with employees filing complaints after being groped and kissed without consent. The company paid $290,000 in a settlement.

So yes, there are politics to the weather app you choose to use.

Enjoy a bit of ‘schadencloude’ 

I have an emergency back-up for when things are really tough: looking up the weather of cities where conditions are almost guaranteed to be worse than in London. Edinburgh, though beautiful, is usually a couple of degrees colder than wherever I am. Orlando, Florida, always looks unbearably hot and horribly muggy. 

Flicking through these places makes my own position seem just a bit better. As a colleague put it – I’m enjoying a bit of ‘schadencloude’. 

Your gut instinct is 100pc correct, some of the time

Although my weather app usage has become torrential over the last six months, I'm not a complete tech zealot. I've learned that you need to supplement the info the apps give you; I'm now a sort of witch weather diviner, getting my personal forecast from a mix of app advice and gut instinct.

I poke my head out of the window in the morning, and take a deep sniff of the air. Does it smell metallic? Was it a red sky this morning or last night? Have I recently seen cows sitting down or standing up? 

Obviously no one's instincts are perfect, otherwise companies wouldn't bother making forecasting apps in the first place. But if the sky is hung with concrete grey clouds, it will rain – whatever Apple says.

Which weather app do you trust the most? Let us know in the comments below.