Debate all you want about global warming and climate change, but more catastrophic weather is in the forecast for planet Earth. If the sobering warnings recently issued by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are accurate, we'll be contending with more frequent and more severe floods, droughts and heat waves in the not-too-distant future.
While apps can't change the weather, they can help you anticipate and prepare for it, rain or shine, twister or typhoon. Here's a look at three reliable, potentially life-saving apps that you can use to track and weather all kinds and conditions, especially the worst:
1. Tornado by American Red Cross
Several hundred tornadoes ripped through communities in the U.S. this year. Possibly the worst of which was the tornado that struck Moore, Okla., in May, killing 23 people and injuring 377. To help you and your loved ones know when a twister is coming and what to do before and after one hits, try the Red Cross's free, easy-to-use Tornado app.
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The most useful feature is its audible tornado alarm warning system, which blares a realistic tornado siren sound. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound off when your device is in sleep mode.
Should a tornado strike, you can let your friends and family know you're okay by using the app's customizable "I'm Safe" text notification feature. Or, if you need shelter, use the location-based shelter-finding feature to locate a nearby Red Cross shelter. The app also provides practical, step-by-step tornado preparation and recovery tips, which work offline, just in case cell towers and Wi-Fi in your area go out.
Tornado by American Red Cross is available for Android devices and iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
2. Hurricane HD
Luckily this year's Atlantic hurricane season is off to a sluggish start, despite the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) recent prediction of an "above normal" season. Still, it's wise to be ready for the worst anyway.
Kitty Code's Hurricane HD has you covered with everything you need to keep a close eye on hurricanes, tropical cyclones and typhoons as they unfold in your local area and worldwide.
Hurricane HD's interactive radar and satellite maps show ongoing hurricanes and tropical storms, including key details like wind speed, storm speed and direction, as well as your distance away. You can view five-day forecasts, along with the most current tropical weather bulletins from the National Hurricane Center, the Central Pacific Hurricane Center and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center.
The graphics-heavy app integrates Hurricane HD's Twitter feed, which provides storm advisory, watch and warning updates throughout the day, every day.
Hurricane HD is available for $3.99 for iPad.
3. NOAA Hi-Def Radar
WeatherSphere's highly-rated app, which is especially useful for tracking hurricanes and thunderstorms, does one thing extremely well: it broadcasts stunningly detailed, animated high-definition NOAA weather radar maps in full color. The multi-touch zoom-in, zoom-out maps show you where snowfall, lightning strikes, storm tracks, hurricanes, drought and wildfires are occurring, all on one convenient interactive interface.
Users can check the current weather and forecast from any point on the map, including severe weather warnings. But there's only one problem and we hope it's only temporary. The app's links to the latest advisories via the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Hurricane Center aren't working at the moment due to -- you guessed it -- the government shutdown.
A feature called Area Forecast Discussions is still chugging along fine, keeping users abreast of the latest NWS regional forecasts in dozens of locations throughout the U.S.
NOAA Hi-Def Radar is available for $1.99 on Android devices and iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
WeatherSphere also offers WeatherAlerts ($3.99 for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch), an app that issues a loud siren sound to alert you whenever dangerous weather events are approaching, including tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, blizzards, tsunamis, wildfires and other serious weather events.