The 10 best weather apps for pilots
Checking the weather before flight has always been one of the most popular uses for the iPad. After all, it’s easier to get an update by looking at your tablet or your phone than to sit down at a computer or call Flight Service. But which app to use?
There are thousands of weather apps for the general public, from free to quite expensive. These are great for deciding whether you need a jacket tomorrow, but when it comes to aviation weather–looking at thunderstorms, ice, turbulence, visibility and so much more–these apps just aren’t enough. So we’ll focus on apps that offer more for pilots, both free and paid.
Here are our top 10 weather apps for pilots:
10. Weekend Flyer. Heading out on a weekend trip and want to get a feel for what the weather will be like a few days out for the return flight? Weekend Flyer is designed just for that purpose, providing a graphical forecast with a time slider from 1 hour to 3 days out in the future.
As you move the slider and adjust the forecast window, the forecast colors change on each airport based on the weather forecast for the selected time (green for VFR, red for IFR, etc.). This is great for viewing large-scale trends in the weather and to see where there is a potential for thunderstorm development. Get the app here.
9. Thunderly. While this app probably isn’t going to help you with the final go/no-go decision, it can help you analyze the energy and convective nature of thunderstorms by displaying real-time lighting strike depictions. In addition to displaying an accurate day and night cycle, the globe view contains real-time clouds, precipitation and lightning history layer for last hour. Get the app here.
8. WINDY. While thunderstorms and ice get all the attention, wind is actually the most common reason to cancel a flight. That’s why we like this app: it shows current and forecast wind conditions for thousands of locations, and offers the ability to search by airport identifier. What sets the app apart is its elegant design and beautiful animations. The map view, in particular, is a fantastic way to get the big picture overview. Get the app here.
7. CloudTopper. This may not technically be a weather app, but it’s useful in flight when dealing with weather. CloudTopper, just $0.99, is the answer to the ever-present question, “Are we going to top those clouds?” Using the iPad or iPhone’s built-in gyro and camera, it allows you to point your phone at the clouds ahead, get it exactly level and see whether or not those clouds are above you. You can even enter your estimated distance to the clouds and the app will estimate how many feet you would need to climb to get on top. Great for VFR and IFR pilots alike. Get the app here.
6. METARs Aviation Weather. While plenty of apps show you text weather reports, this $6.99 app is a fast and easy way to check the latest conditions without a lot of clutter. Set your favorite airports, then track VFR/MVFR/IFR/LIFR with color-coded icons. Plain English translations make it easy to understand all the details on that long METAR, too. But our favorite feature is the customizable notifications, which allows the app to alert you (even without having the app open) to changing weather conditions automatically. So if you want to know when your departure airport changes from VFR to marginal VFR, just tap a few settings and you’ll be ready. METARs Aviation Weather also has a pretty good Apple Watch app. Get the app here.
5. WeatherSpork. Co-founded by Scott Dennstaedt, a well-known former meteorologist and active flight instructor who worked at ForeFlight until last year. Dennstaedt’s goal is to improve pilots’ understanding of weather, and in particular to help them choose the best day and time for departure.
The app incorporates a unique set of views to help you visualize the atmosphere and go beyond the standard reports. We particularly like the Grid View that graphically displays weather forecasts for the various points along your entered route, for a quick analysis of VFR/MVFR/IFR/LIFR conditions. It also includes a wealth of weather imagery products, eliminating the needs to hunt down the more advanced forecast graphics on aviationweather.gov. Get the app here.
4. Station Weather Sometimes though you just need a quick glance at the latest radar imagery, or view the updated METAR to see how things are trending. Station Weather provides this data using a visual-centric interface with helpful graphics depicting current and forecast conditions. It’s also one of the few weather apps to offer an Apple Watch app that is easy to use and read on the small screen (including custom complications for watch faces), and an iPad today widget for quick reference to METARs on the home screen.
StationWeather is offered in two versions – Lite and Pro. The Lite version allows you to store up to 3 airports in the favorites view, but includes most of the other features of the Pro version. You’ll need to purchase the Pro version for $3.99 to get the Apple Watch app, but it’s well worth it for those who regularly use apps on their watch. StationWeather (free) & StationWeather Pro ($3.99)
3. RadarScope. If MyRadar is the lightweight, easy-to-use radar app, RadarScope is the weather geek’s radar app. It focuses less on pretty pictures and more on options–you can display any of the 155 different radar sites in the US, and choose between base and composite reflectivity. This is a complicated subject, but many pilots think composite reflectivity is most useful for flight planning (but is not what most TV stations show). Having the ability to compare different radar scans can offer some good insights with a little training. There are all kinds of other radar products, from velocity to differential reflectivity. The app, which costs $9.99, also allows you to zoom in and look for tell-tale severe weather radar signatures. Get the app here.
2. MyRadar. There are literally hundreds of radar apps in the App Store, and with good reason. Checking the radar is an essential task for pilots and non-pilots alike. Almost all of these apps use the same data (from the National Weather Service), so it’s mostly how this data is presented that distinguishes apps from each other. One of our favorites is MyRadar. It’s free, fast and easy to use, with high quality looping radar. But as we’ve mentioned before, there are some nice aviation features in there too, like an AIRMETs and TFR overlay. Get the app here.
1. ForeFlight/Garmin Pilot/FltPlan Go/WingX/Stratus Insight/FlyQ. Whichever of the big aviation apps you use, they are hard to beat for weather briefings. Because you can overlay your flight plan route on different weather maps, they offer great situational awareness and endless possibilities for diversion planning (you can even factor in fuel prices). These apps also include a wealth of information, from graphical METARs to icing forecasts, that you can’t find most other places. Finally, they allow you to get a formal weather briefing right in the app. This is not to mention the in-flight options for datalink weather, whether it’s SiriusXM or ADS-B. Get ForeFlight here, Garmin Pilot here, FltPlan Go here, WingX here, Stratus Insight here and FlyQ here.
What’s your favorite weather app? Add a comment below.
Another good app is Weather Mate. It shows fronts and has a good radar forecast. I also use it for the daily and hourly forecast with precipitation and wind.