I clearly remember my late grandfather (the one who first introduced me to fishing) tapping his barometer.It was one of those classic dome-glassed models with the dual pointer arms and a liquid temperature gauge at the bottom. Set in yellowwood, it hung in the bar- which was all cut glass decanters and memorabilia, including a mounted sailie caught off Mauritius and photos of the old man with various marlin boated off Hawaii (things were different then).
“Bottom’s falling out of the glass” he would mutter with considered confidence, as the arm moved. Sucking on his Scotch rocks he’d add “storm’s coming.” Sure enough, the following day Hermanus (where he’d retired) would be under siege of the northwester and Walker Bay churned to mush. Think I was about eight or so at the time.
That set the foundations for a lifetime fascination with reading the weather. And if I think of it now, was my life not as connected to the whims of the prevailing conditions for surfing and fishing, I’d still be dialled in on far more than ‘is it going to be hot today’ thanks to those early building blocks.
From there, watching the weather on TV (remember that?) morphed into phoning the Port Elizabeth Meteorological office via collect call on the school payphone at Nico Malan High School in Humansdorp. Things were pretty simple back then – offshore westerlies were surf days, onshore easterlies were for fishing.
Somewhere in my later high school years I got an Oregon Scientific digital barometer as a birthday gift. That little weather station was amazingly accurate for St Francis Bay and I had it sussed – prepped and ready for what the next day would bring on its readings.
Much water has run under the Kromme River bridge since and now I live in a north-facing little cottage in Mossel Bay. I’m fortunate enough to have a bathroom that sits on a north-south axis, with windows on both the east and west sides. Being Mossel Bay, these are open 98% of the time. With all the technology we have at our finger tips these days, I still like to ‘read’ the weather in some kind of manual way. And that bathroom is my Met Office.
Nowadays, when I have to get up in the middle of the night (usually to deal with some un-done writing deadlines but often after an evening of beers too many) I rejoice in taking a leak. If the wind is in my face, it’s blowing offshore, if the breeze is in my neck,it’s blowing east. Things are far more complicated now than in the days of onshore = fishing, offshore = surfing, but at least I can dream during those3am pisses.
And yet, nostalgia and midnight pees aside, I’m a sucker for a good weather app and spot forecasting. Here is a brief overview of some of my current favourites:
For a broad (but detailed) outlook>> Weather Underground
This is a comprehensive, little tool, offering a detailed daily and hourly forecast, as well a five-day outlook. It has all the usual features you’d want to forecast a day’s fishing conditions, wind direction, pressure, cloud cover, precipitation and moon phase. Plus a range of other little features that might impress weather nerds.
You can also customise a ‘smart forecast’ for fishing (or star gazing, landscape photography or cycling) set on your parameters. I also really like the first light/last light feature. Most apps have sunset and sunrise times, but only few show when it will actually get dark (epic for knowing just when kob o’clock will roll around).
Oh, and if you’re into tracking tropical storms (maybe you’re heading somewhere or your buddy is in the torrid zone), the Hurricane & Tropical Cycle forecast map shows you the path of current storms, including forecast maps.
For a quick look at conditions for the next few days>> NOAA Radar
This has become sort of a default recently. The free version is not the most feature-rich or animated, to be fair, but I find it accurate and easy-to-use for a quick overview of the next three days’ charts for temperature, air pressure, precipitation and wind. As with most, it allows you to bookmark various locations and offers three different ways to view the maps: standard, hybrid, satellite. That being said,I usually don’t look at the radar view, but make most use of the ‘charts’ view -a three-day outlay of the most pertinent weather factors.
For a visual experience>> Windy
Okay, let’s be fair, many of the newer phone apps show wind speed and direction in animated display with nifty little arrows and pretty colours. I come from a black-and-white synoptic chart climatology background (still have all my Varsity textbooks) so I tend to question their accuracy over ease-on-the-eyes. Windy is different. At least it feels like that.
It covers the entire Earth (don’t they all), yet it is locally accurate and the animated map allows you to set various weather layers including wind, rain, temperature, pressure and swell, built on various forecasting models – global ECMWF and GFS, plus local NEMS and ICON (for Europe) and NAM (for the USA).
The sea temp feature is also useful. Although also available in most of the others.
For off-shore and in-shore ocean conditions>> Windguru
Long live Windguru. No longer an ‘app’ in the sense of an app, you can still have the web icon on your home screen and access the info via the website as you would an app. There is not much to say about Windguru except that it is the one all others are measured by. The detail in forecast across wind (speed and direction), swell (height, direction and period), temperature and cloud cover (as well as precipitation) is still unrivalled. And while some might say the interface is not ‘pretty’ in today’s animated app world, I like to turn my phone horizontal and check all the models (WRF, ICON and GWAM).
For the next level>> RadarScope ($9.99, iOS)
So this one I’ve only seen in previews and read reviews about. It ain’t free, but if I’m going to drop some coin on an app, this will probably be it. It is trusted by sailors and private pilots and NEXRAD Level 3 radar data – apparently the highest level of radar detail you’ll find for a smart phone.
*Disclaimer: Most of the current apps offer the same, or very similar features and it’s really about accuracy and user interface which determines personal choice. Also, these are the free versions (purposefully) so you need to know your own gag limit for force-fed ads. I’m unashamedly iOS biased, however I’m aware that there are a few Android specific weather apps that are quite powerful.