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Don't forget your umbrella (ella, ella) with these 5 free weather apps

Be ready, rain or shine, with these free weather apps

When it comes to apps, there are some that are so essential that you use them throughout your day (calendar, email, maps), and some that are.... less immediately useful (virtual lighters and vuvuzela sound apps come to mind). One essential app addition that no one should be without is a dependable weather app--and with so many variations of weather apps available, you shouldn't feel any need to stick with the default one that came with your phone.

That being said, there's no such thing as a perfect weather app. Everybody's different and while some people like to see numbers and stats, others prefer to see colors and pictures. These five weather apps aren't faultless, but they each have different strengths that will appeal to different people. And they're all free, so what have you got to lose?

AccuWeather--iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8

If you're looking for temperature charts and social media integration, AccuWeather may be the app for you. This free app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8.

AccuWeather's app is easy to use, but it's not quite as smooth as some of the other apps we tested. The app has multiple screens that you can swipe through to display the current conditions, as well as hourly and 15-day forecasts and animated radar maps. The iOS and Android versions feature temperature graphs for the hourly and 15-day forecasts, along with detailed weather information on precipitation, wind speed, and more.

AccuWeather also offers up weather news, including video forecasts, along with lifestyle forecasts for more practical users. These lifestyle forecasts are sort of a mixed bag in terms of usefulness--some are useful (asthma and arthritis risks), while others are...not so much (dog-walking forecast).

The AccuWeather app integrates with Android's notification bar, where it shows the current temperature along with general conditions, as well as with the Windows Phone 8 start menu. AccuWeather can commandeer the start menu to display temperature, severe weather alerts, highs and lows, and wind speed.

Forecast.io--iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8

Forecast.io is a simple, elegantly presented weather app that works on just about any platform--because it's web based. If you visit Forecast.io using a regular web browser (or a tablet browser), you'll see the full-featured website which includes a "time machine" feature that lets you look up weather data from the past and for the future (although like most weather forecasts, we'll assume the future info is conjecture).

Though Forecast.io works on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8, it's different on all three platforms. For iPhones and iPod touches, Forecast.io has designed a gorgeous web app that has all the functionality of an app downloaded from the App Store. The iOS web app displays current temperature data, as well as a 7-day forecast and local, regional, and global precipitation maps.

There's no web app for Android users, but Forecast.io's mobile site is just as useful. The mobile site on Android is almost identical to the iOS web app, with the ability to store favorite locations and swipe through each day to see detailed weather info.

Forecast.io on Windows Phone 8 is a little disappointing; it's no different from what you'd see on a regular web browser. Apparently Internet Explorer can't force Forecast.io into a neat, app-like mobile version, so you end up having to pinch and zoom around the site.

WeatherBug--iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8

WeatherBug offers detailed weather information, a 7-day forecast, and a customizable radar map in its free (ad-supported) app, which is available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone 8. The WeatherBug app consists of four forecast screens (current, hourly, 7-day, and detailed), the first of which features a customizable set of tiles along the bottom for accessing other app features.

The main screen displays a good amount of information, but if you're looking for more details you can swipe to the left to check out the "detailed" screen. Here you'll see highs and lows for temperature, humidity, and pressure, as well as detailed precipitation and wind speed data.

In both the iOS and Android versions of the app, a small icon in the upper left corner lets you access the menu where you can find the radar map, lifestyle forecasts, and settings. The radar map features customizable overlays (radar, visible satellite, worldwide satellite, and temperature gradients).

WeatherBug's lifestyle forecasts are fairly useful, in that they offer general advice. For example, the "beauty" forecast lets you know if there's a dry skin risk (and, if so, advises you to put on lotion). WeatherBug also features photos, live weather cameras, a pollen forecast courtesy of Pollen.com, and national video clips. The app also integrates with the Android notification bar, where it displays the current temperature.

Solar:Weather--iOS

Not everyone is looking for a super-detailed, multi-faceted weather app. Some people just want to know the temperature and whether it's snowing outside. For those people, there's Solar:Weather, a minimalist iPhone app that's both useful and attractive.

Solar:Weather is quite simple: The main screen shows your current location, current date and time, temperature, and general weather conditions (for example, "clear," or "mostly cloudy") against a muted, colorful background. The background color changes depending on the weather. For example, if it's hot outside, the background will be reddish orange; if it's raining, small animated droplets of rain will fall on the upper half of the screen.

To navigate through the app, you use swipes and gestures. Swipe to the side to view the next city on your list, swipe down to see a 3-day forecast (highs, lows, and general conditions), and swipe up to scroll through the next 24 hours. Pinch to zoom out and see all of your saved cities and to access the app's settings. That's all there is to Solar:Weather--it's an extremely straightforward app, but it's perfect for getting a feel for the weather at a glance.

The Weather Channel--iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, BlackBerry

Although The Weather Channel's free app is similar to other apps we've tested--namely AccuWeather and WeatherBug--it does have its own strengths. It's available for just about every platform (including BlackBerry) and it offers up excellent local weather news video clips.

The Weather Channel app offers all the features found on other multi-featured weather apps, including detailed weather information, hourly and 10-day forecasts, and the ability to save multiple locations. It's also got a radar map with customizable layers, including storm tracking, UV index, and temperature, as well as a PollenCast lifestyle forecast for people with allergies.

Although The Weather Channel app is available across multiple platforms, it's very different on each platform. The Android version, for example, has a modern interface with expanding bubbles, while the iOS version looks a lot like WeatherBug's app. All versions feature weather backgrounds, which can be swapped out for custom backgrounds. The Windows Phone 8 version has a nice Live Tile that cycles through the weather (complete with weather background) and the radar map.

The perfect weather app for you

Everyone has a different preference for weather news delivery. If you're a sucker for local video clips, check out The Weather Channel. If you like layered radar maps and lifestyle forecasts, take a look at WeatherBug. If you want to get all of your weather information at a glance, Solar:Weather is your perfect weather app. And if none of these apps work just the way you want them to, keep looking--your perfect weather app is out there.


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