Finding an Accurate Weather App

Who has the most accurate weather forecast?

Weather forecast on a phone
Mareen Fischinger/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

When it comes to checking your weather forecast, which weather service provider should you trust most?

For most people, AccuWeather, The Weather Channel, and Weather Underground are helpful. According to a study by the independent ForecastWatch, all three of these weather apps have a history of getting correct the nation's one- to five-day high temperatures—that is, they consistently forecast within three degrees of accuracy.

That said, finding the most accurate weather forecast for you is not always as simple as relying on the reputations of popular weather service providers. Here are some of the reasons why and how you can find one you can trust.

Why One Size Does Not Fit All

Keep in mind, the weather apps listed above are among the best for many people, but not necessarily for all. There are a number of variables that affect a service's accuracy.

One reason why the "best" weather service providers may not work for you is that your location may be too localized. Most forecasts are generated for major metropolitan areas across the U.S, so if you live along city outskirts or in a rural area, it is possible that your hyper-local weather may not be captured. As more companies allow users to share real-time weather updates via their mobile devices—referred to as weather crowd-sourcing—this data gap may become less of a hindrance.

Another reason a weather service provider's forecasts may (or may not) be reliable has to do with how that organization arrives at their forecasts in your area—each provider has a unique recipe for doing so. In general, they all largely base their forecasts on the computer models provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But after that, there is no standard formula. Some services base their weather predictions solely on these computer models; others use a mix of computers and human meteorologist skills, with some gut instinct sprinkled in.

There are situations where computers do a better job at forecasting, but in others, accuracy improves when a human professional gets involved. This is why predictive accuracy varies from location to location and from week to week.

Which Service Is Most Accurate for You?

If you're curious to know which major weather providers give the most accurate forecasts for your area, try using ForecastAdvisor. The website has you enter your zip code and will then show you how closely forecasts from The Weather Channel, WeatherBug, AccuWeather, Weather Underground, the National Weather Service, and other providers matched the actual weather observed for your area over the last month and year. This will help you find the most accurate weather forecast for you.

Is Your Forecast Always Wrong?

After consulting ForcastAdvisor, have you been surprised to see that the highly ranked services are ones that often get it wrong? Don't be so quick to blame your weather provider—an accuracy issue for you may not actually be caused by poor forecasting by them. Instead, it has to do with where the weather station itself is located and how often the app (or your device) updates.

For instance, you may be far away from the closest weather station. Most observations used by weather forecasts and apps come from airports across the U.S. If you are 10 miles from the closest airport, your forecast may say there's light rain because there is precipitation near the airport, but it could be dry at your location.

In some cases, the weather observations may not have updated yet. Most weather observations are taken hourly, so if it's raining at 10 a.m but not at 10:50 a.m, your current observation may simply be old and no longer applicable. You should check your refresh time, too.

Hate Weather Apps Entirely?

If you've been let down by weather apps one too many times and have given up on them, all hope is not lost for knowing what to expect when you walk outside. If you want the most up-to-date picture of what's happening weatherwise, check your local weather radar. This tool should update automatically every few minutes.