ZDNet

May 26, 2012

Hurricane Trackers: Survival tools for Smartphone, Tablet and even Desktop users

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Note: This article was originally published in September of 2010. It has been updated to reflect current content.

During Labor Day weekend of 2010, Hurricane Earl, a dangerous Category 4 storm moved from the Western Caribbean towards the continental United States, threatening the Eastern seaboard and potentially busting up everyone’s Labor Day weekend plans.

Even in its weakened Category 2 state that it was expected to make landfall in New England, I wasn’t about to let the little bastard ruin my Labor Day weekend.

Oh no. No Siree. For I had plans to eat my weight in lobster and fried clams in Cape Cod, Massachusetts that weekend, smack damn right in the center where that windy son of a bitch was going to land.

Most sane and mentally-balanced people flee from dangerous tropical storms such as hurricanes. I would normally consider myself such a mentally-balanced person, except that my wife was insistent that if we left Northern New Jersey early enough, we’d be able to make our timeshare in Brewster well in advance of the storm by at least six hours, and by the next day, according to most reports, everything would clear out.

As I am sure many readers may be aware, that under pressure from one’s spouse, men can be made to do extremely dangerous and stupid things.

Against all better judgement, we set off on late Friday morning with information technology that five or ten years ago most people would not have been able to even dream of utilizing to help them make more informed decisions, such as our portable GPS, our laptop, our Android smartphones, and one new tool as part of our storm-chaser arsenal — my iPad.

While many of the same types of tools can still be used on a PC or Mac desktop or laptop, I discovered a new found and real appreciation for iPad and the iOS for this type of application.

I found the iPad to be a particularly good visualization tool for analyzing hurricane tracks, because of the device’s multi-touch and human-oriented interface and how quickly I was able to get updated reports on the storm’s progress with the Apps I had chosen.

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 Hurricane Beryl veering towards the northern tip of Florida and potentially making landfall in the Carolinas and Georgia, you’ll want to be prepared.

NOAA National Hurricane Center (Web Site)

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 device. It costs you absolutely nothing and if you really want to learn about hurricanes, this is definitely the place to go.

The National Hurricane Center is the central source of data 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 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.

University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center (Web Sites)

I was recently turned onto the University of Wisconsin’s SSEC by Tech Broiler reader and professional storm chaser/photographer Jim Edds.

Jim uses a number of 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 web site, which you can access on any PC or tablet. Jim likes this site because frequently he is using only 3G service and he is able to access a large amount of data quickly without a large download payload.

Like NOAA, TROPIC has a huge 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.

Jim is also very impressed with the SSEC’s brand new Geostationary Satellite Images site, which shows high-resolution animated satellite images from several different weather satellites in Flash or Javascript, depending on what type of device you are using.

Radarscope (iOS, $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 new Retina display of the third-generation iPad.

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 particular dangerous weather area.

iHurricaneHD by HurricaneSoftware.com (Ad-Supported iOS/Android/Windows Phone, $2.99 Ad-free)

iHurricaneHD is a free advertising-supported hurricane tracker App for iOS, Windows Phone and Android devices. The company also has a full desktop suite for Windows PCs.

iHurricaneHD allows you to track the progress of current and past storms and uses projection data from the National Hurricane Center.

Using the interface, you click on each projected location where it displays the hurricane’s estimated speed, heading and approximate distance from your location.

It also allows you to view various static satellite maps from the US Navy, GOES and METEOSAT, and provides a better interface to warning and alert information from the NHC than the NHC does with its own website.

The Application also allows you to register your email address for hurricane alerts. An in-app purchase on Android and iOS of $2.99 removes all advertising from the program.

Hurricane/HD by KittyCode LLC (iOS, $3.99)

Hurricane and Hurricane HD, distributed by KittyCode for $3.99 for the iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad respectively is probably the most sophisticated of the “Apps” for iOS listed in this article. It has by far the most exploitative user interface on the iPhone and iPad and makes very good use of the multi-touch capabilities of iOS.

Like HurricaneSoftware.com’s iHurricaneHD, Hurricane/Hurricane HD makes use of data from the National Hurricane Center, but presents it in a very easy to navigate and visually pleasing way and allows you to seamlessly switch between satellite and map modes for storm tracking as well as moving radar and satellite imaging loops.

As with iHurricaneHD, this app allows you to track current as well as past storms, going back as far as even 1851 using available data. The software also provides video updates for storms that are currently in progress.

Hurricane Tracker for iPhone/iPad by iPhoneEZApps (iOS, $1.99)

Our next iOS “App”, Hurricane Tracker for iOS is something of an odd-man-out, as it isn’t really a native “App” per se, even though it is sold on the App Store for $1.99. It’s actually a very clever “mashup” of various web data from the NHC and other sources that allows it to be presented in sort of a browser-wrapper on an iOS device.

That being said, any clever individual could easily make this run on their PC, Mac or an Android device, once they know the basic URLs

Current Storms (Smartphone Version)

Current Storms (HD/Tablet)

Moving Satellite Maps (Smartphone Version)

Moving Satellite Maps (HD/Tablet)

Tropical Outlook Page

Hurricane Season Storm Names

Saffir-Simpson Scale

I was able to make all of these pages work on my Windows, Mac and Linux-based PCs provided I was running Chrome (which is WebKit-based, like the iPad’s browser) and they they will also work on the Mac’s Safari as well.

I was also able to make the smartphone versions of the pages work flawlessly on my Android 2.3 and Android 4.0 devices in addition to my test Windows Phone 7 device recently upgraded to “Mango” (version 7.5).

The main “Current Storms” page includes a daily updated audio forecast that appears to be narrated by the application’s author, who is a talented storm expert.

I haven’t seen a native Android version of this particular web mashup yet on the Android Market, but I’d gladly pay the app developer the $1.99 for his work if I could use it on my Galaxy Nexus or Android Tablet without having to switch manually between bookmarks.

Stormpulse (Subscription Web Site, $279.00 per year for single user license)

Stormpulse is probably the most advanced of all of the tools mentioned above, but it’s likely overkill for the average end-user.

It’s really more of a professional-level tool intended for businesses that have facilities in hurricane-prone areas, or for companies that are dependent on shipping and transportation.

The tool runs only on a desktop as the website is Flash-based, so it won’t run on an iOS device and has poor performance on Android’s Flash-enabled native browser.

However, a native iOS client is currently under development, but there is no timetable for its release yet.

Unfortunately, the website is no longer free, but offers a 7-day trial to test the advanced Premium features for those that are more storm and hurricane enthusiasts or even meteorological professionals, such as moving satellite imagery loops, “Super Radar” and customizable alerts.

What other good hurricane tracking and forecasting apps and websites do you like to use? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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