Most pilots are weather geeks, either by disposition or training, and that means a good weather app can be particularly helpful or even fun. The big electronic flight bag apps like ForeFlight and Garmin Pilot do a great job of consolidating the key weather maps and forecasts, but there is a role for non-aviation apps. A great example is Ventusky, a $3.99 app that beautifully displays maps of wind, clouds, and more.
Open the app and you’ll be greeted by an eye-catching map of wind and radar. This is great for getting an overview of the weather patterns. The radar option does allow you to slide forward in time (via the slider bar at the bottom of the screen), so you can get an estimated radar picture about an hour into the future. This won’t show full HRRR model data multiple days out, like some apps, but it is helpful for short-term planning. It also shows historical radar going back a multiple days—ideal for debriefing a flight and learning.
Tap on the weather product at the top right of the screen to access the full menu of weather maps. This features mostly non-aviation weather products, like wind and temperature, but there are some helpful options for pilots. For example, Convective Available Potential Energy (CAPE), which measures instability and thus how much fuel there is to feed convection, is an excellent way to predict whether thunderstorms will be an issue for your afternoon flight. In the summertime, it could be clear skies at 10am but if the CAPE values are over 3000, you should be thinking about storms.
Wind shear is also presented in a beautiful map. This can help visualize where the roughest rides might be.
The cloud layer is divided into low, medium, and high layers. This isn’t an exact forecast, but it is helpful for an overview. For example, if you’re in an unpressurized airplane and you see solid clouds from low all the way to high, it’s a good guess you won’t be on top.
There are the typical non-aviation forecasts too. Set your current location and then slide up from the bottom to get a detailed view of temperatures, winds, precipitation, and more.
For the true weather geek, tap the settings button and choose your preferred weather model. If this all looks Greek to you, leave it alone and the app will work fine.