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Tech Savvy: Weather smartphone apps handy if not perfect

Before I relocated to Minnesota, I never understood viewers' preoccupation with The Weather Channel, the cable and satellite TV channel launched more than three decades ago.

I long held the belief if you wanted to know what the weather was like—and was going to be—then do something "radical," like tearing yourself away from the TV and actually step outside.

But that was before I moved to Minnesota and discovered every resident's seemingly favorite topic to discuss in this state, especially when there is nothing to talk about: weather.

To the rescue, smartphone weather-related apps, which are available for download from Google Play or the App Store, if you have an Android smartphone or an iPhone, respectively.

The proliferation of the handy-dandy weather prognosticators is sure easier than shoving a groundhog down your pants in February to check if there will be six more weeks of winter.

Some weather apps are free, but the best ones "offer accurate forecasts by region, current conditions for your location, useful radar maps, and the ability to set weather alerts for anything from government-issued warnings to expected rainfall in your area," according to CNET.com.

The American media website publishes reviews, news, articles, blogs, podcasts and videos on technology and consumer electronics globally and is my "go-to website" for all manners tech.

The most useful (and hence most popular) weather apps start with data by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but how accurate are these smartphone weather-related apps, I've also wondered, especially when something major is on the line?

For example, if you were planning a wedding, a high school graduation party, a once-in-a-lifetime family reunion—or any other manner of event or occasion requiring lots of money, effort and time—would you really rely on their forecasts?

Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences, but there seems to be a fair amount of guesswork, too, judging by how meteorologists often bandy about percentages, saying stuff like, "There is a 75 percent chance of rain expected tomorrow, but by evening, skies will be clear."

(First of all, how many of you work in a profession in which you don't have to be accurate? I sure as heck don't—although to err is human and I'm only human—but I am positive that in most jobs, employers don't go, when you aren't right, "You were close, Bob. Better luck next time.")

According to CNET.com, the best full-service weather apps cover everything from weather alerts to traffic reports, such as The Weather Channel and the AccuWeather apps. I've used both with various degrees of satisfaction. Both are free but contain ads unless you pay to remove them.

How user-friendly or easy to use the respective apps are depends to a large degree on who is using them and their personal preferences, but the apps beat carrying a weather vane around.

The weather apps can monitor your current location, keep an eye on specific locations (such as places you often visit, or where friends and family reside), whether there is a lot of pollen outside, for example, if you have allergies, or what the conditions are if you plan on golfing.

I'd give the edge to The Weather Channel app, even though the AccuWeather app has been around longer. That's because the Accuweather app predicts—to the minute—when, say, rain is expected to fall, but I find it is often wrong.

Other apps recommended by CNET include Weather Underground for "what the weather will be for your neighborhood" and "combines the strength of the National Weather Service with the power of real-time local reporting from more than 250,000 personal weather stations."

And the best weather app for "short-term local forecasts," according to CNET, is Dark Sky, which can provide forecasts down to the minute for your exact location and customized notifications based on temperature, precipitation, snowfall, wind speed, UV index or humidity changes.

All of which is well and good in the Brainerd lakes area, particularly if you like outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, hunting, skiing, swimming, riding all-terrain vehicles or snowmobiles, or biking.

As much as the weather may change in Minnesota—and the state has some of the widest weather variety in the U.S.—one thing is for certain: Minnesotans love to talk about the weather.

Yah, sure. You betcha.

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