TOM’S TECH – WEATHER WEBSITES AND APPS
In his regular feature in Issue # 84 Tom Court investigated the tech-tools designed to aid you in the art of predicting kitesurfing conditions
As for many other sports that rely on mother nature for fuel, we must also develop our super power of weather prediction to make sure we’re at the right place at the right time to maximise the quality of our time away from work / non-kiting partners. Fortunately this game has become a whole lot easier with the ever broadening array of weather forecast apps. Wind, tide, pressure, swell, period, direction, strength, UV factor and many more elements can combined to create an accurate prediction of what might happen a few weeks, days or minutes from now. The question is, which ones do you use? And should you use different ones at different times?
This issue I’ll talk you through the various forecasting apps on my phone. If you ride at several different spots or travel for your holidays, it’s useful to consider that some apps and sites work better than others in different areas. Taking into account things like local currents, thermic winds, physical geographic features and other elements can make their forecasts more reliable. Which factors are most important and how much data to you care to know? Do you want a general picture of what the weather is doing or are you a stickler for detail? Are you simply looking to kill some time at the office, or are you checking on the way to the beach? All of these factors will dictate which app or site is best for you. So here is a breakdown of some of my top forecasts:
WINDGURU (PRO ACCOUNT)
The staple forecasting app for many people over many years. Windguru captured the kitesurfing / windsurfing audience with its sheer and unparalleled selection of spots to choose from. Offering a clean, simple, analytical interface it has made forecasting easy, delivering a reliable stream of numbers and colours, without frill or fuss Windguru gives you what you need to know before you plan your week. Gust detail, average speeds, direction changes, swell height and period allow for a comprehensive glance as well as a more detailed analysis if you care to look. However, the swell predictions are often un-reliable and some forecasting areas don’t take into account local factors, such as shelter from headlands or fetch, so simplicity is definitely its strong suit.
One great asset that Windguru has is its close relationship to the industry business locations themselves. If you are a windsurf or kitesurf centre you can add your own spot to the app by installing a Windguru weather station that feeds live data back to the website and allows fellow wind users and customers to check the conditions at the location before heading down. This is an incredibly powerful tool and I can’t help but think that this is the way that the future of micro-forecasting will go. If your local spot happens to have a Windguru weather station, it will be hard to put more trust in any other app for that location, especially on the day.
This app is reasonably new to me, however, as Windguru was offline briefly for its recent upgrade, I fell back on Windy. I have to admit it offers a great user experience and presents the data attractively using a collection of nifty graphs and tables. Through the GPS on your phone you can easily find the nearest forecasted locations and see the week’s forecasts in a satisfying array of colour scaling, making at-a-glance analysis of the strongest days very simple. Customisation of the app is easy, too, allowing for changes in the units of measurement (knots, km/h, mp/h, m/s, feet, metres etc.) and once you get used to the app, it is very visual which allows for lots of information to be gleaned at-a-glance. The circular graph at the top shows all possible wind directions and as you scroll through the week with a flick of the thumb, Windy does a good job of giving you an overall impression of wind strength and direction so you don’t waste much time deliberating over which days to further analyse.
My one criticism is that it can feel complicated, especially if you are switching from the good old analytical data presentation, and can take some time to get used to all the new features. Getting the app set up to favour my preferences took a few days to get used to, but it’s definitely an app worth having. However, if you haven’t used it before, it isn’t the one to rely on ten minutes before a session as you could easily get bogged down in pre-session admin!
Georush is an interesting concept as a website that compiles data using an algorithm from other sites and also allows you to select the sports you’re interested in and then customise your search criteria and forecast for your hobbies. A great desk-top tool providing hours of customising ‘fun’ as you dial in your exact criteria. The concept is good as Georush plan to roll it out into all the weather sports however, at the moment, it purely concentrates on kitesurfing and windsurfing on a worldwide basis.
The algorithm uses your current location to collect the weather forecasts from your area and gives you a list of what it believes to be the ten best locations for you. However, it will only give you readings for spots that it knows and doesn’t add much for the intrepid explorer. Providing a no-mess, simple and rapid forecasting service for the specific spots, it reduces the forecasting to a number rating of 0 – 10. Although the concept is good, it won’t provide ‘Jedi’ levels of detailed forecasting and will keep sending the crowds to the same old spots. But really, how many spots are you likely to hit locally? This is definitely a site to watch and add to your favourites as the service will improve over time, saving you valuable minutes in the future when you arrive at a new spot.
Another app and site specifically tailored towards kiteboarding, windsurfing, sailing and paragliding. With over 25,000 locations to choose from around the world, Windfinder provides real time information on the day as well as a forecast prediction for the coming week. Giving you accurate knowledge of what the wind is doing and where you’ll find it on the day is the prime function and if you are looking for weather information that is current on your way to the beach, Windfinder is a good option.
iKitesurf is similar concept to Windguru and looks as such with a very pleasing user interface that is easy to navigate. The basic seven day forecast gives all of the information that a less experienced forecaster would need to decide on where to head on a windy day with the more detailed forecast providing pressure readings, cloud cover and precipitation information, too. The ‘Nowcast’ map is a nice touch which makes it easy to get a quick overview of how strong the wind’s blowing at the key spots across your region, or across a broader area, and you can also check out more detailed readings from OnSite reports which require an upgrade of membership from the basic ‘guest’ level. I particularly like the Forecast Map and, more importantly, the Forecast FlowVis map which gives Plus, Pro and Gold members access to a moving map showing how weather systems and fronts are moving through an area. It’s not a site that’s that well known in Europe and there are certainly more stations in the US than across the pond but, as it’s tailored specifically towards kiteboarding, it has all the information you could need. Although it may not have the reach of Windguru or the same forecasting network to draw upon, it’s smooth and pleasant to use.
You may not think that Magic Seaweed is for kiters as it tends to typically appeal to the surfing crowd. However, as my forecasting game gets stronger I find that I like to cross-section data from several different sites, especially for local forecasts and swell readings. MSW is my go-to surf forecasting site and I typically look at the swell and period forecasts, tide and daylight information for each spot as it allows greater accuracy with timings, especially if the wave spots are tidal, giving me an overall picture of what the swell will be like for kiting. My cross-over watersport interests keep getting stronger, so with a detailed analysis of all of the elements it is easy to make sure I have all the right toys in the van to ensure I maximise my spare time correctly.
I believe this is one of Europe’s leading forecast apps. Although it costs to download, it has over 2,000,000 locations worldwide, so provides a huge resource of data. Updating hourly, it provides live weather as well as a detailed forecasting range, high resolution weather maps, radar images and graphs that allow the user to see what the weather systems are doing while watching their predicted movements days into the future. It’s a good tool if you want to take your formatting game past that of a casual observer and occasional sailor, progressing into the realms of amateur meteorology.
What started as a small Spanish website allowing people to add webcams and weather stations to their favourite spots around Spain, Spot Fav has expanded to become a powerful tool if your favourite or local spot has a Spot Fav weather station. You can set the app up to give you alerts on your phone when the wind reaches a certain speed. There is a forecasting feature, however this isn’t always the most accurate prediction. I have had trips where Spot Fav is the right app to have, however I wouldn’t recommend it as your only source of data, unless you set the weather station up.
There are many variables that we can take into account, however a lot of the accuracy relies on your own detailed knowledge of an area. Combining your increasing knowledge of the sport and your skill level and needs as a rider with several of these carefully selected websites and apps can lead to perfect forecasting. When travelling to a far off distant land you can never underestimate the power of local knowledge and also the importance of cross-sectioning the forecast between multiple sites / apps.
OUTRO – Tom Court is sponsored by (deep breath!): North International, ION, Ripslix.co.uk, WightLink, Ortema, FeiyuTech, Snugs and Fanatic
This article appeared in Issue #84. Subscribe to the mag for more of Tom’s Tech tips!