The Case Against Weather Apps

Let's talk about it.

Dark Sky is the Maserati of weather apps. It’s got clean lines; it’s cheaper than you’d think; it gets you where you want to go. (The metaphor breaks down at the end, but you get the point.) DS is an impressive piece of engineering and an awesome bit of design and I don’t use it. I did, but I don’t — because weather apps are hurting America.

One could, if predisposed to do so, make the case against weather apps on the basis of their predictive ability: How reliable are they a day out? Two days out? How often do you need that information? And if they’re super reliable over the short term is that even an achievement?

Those are a bunch of questions I don’t care about.

The real reason I don’t use weather apps is that I don’t want the information they put on tap.

I’m not a luddite, but I’m also not a sea captain. And, as someone who spends a great deal of time in a place thick with sea captains (Maine) let me tell you, they’re listening to NOAA broadcasts. The gap between my need for a forecast and a sailor’s need for a forecast is massive and most weather apps, Dark Sky included, sit right in the middle of it. They give me more data than I need and people who actually need data less than they want. Weather apps don’t change the weather or better prepare us for it — more on that later — they just change our conversations about the weather for the worse.

It used to be that talking about the weather was both a metaphor for not really talking about anything and a perfectly pleasant way to pass the time. Everyone knows a few facts about cumulonimbus clouds and [a phrase or two]( (“Mackerel sky means rain!” “Red at night, sailor’s delight!”) so we could all posit theories. That sort of conversation taught you a lot about a person. Certainty was indicative. Uncertainty was indicative. It was easy to spot the indoor kids.

Those conversations were also fun. It’s great to have a theory. Hell, in Cambodia, people literally bet on storms. There are professional rain bookies. This follows logically: We all want to be able to predict the weather because the person who can predict the weather is the person who understands the world.

Thanks to weather apps, the person who predicts the weather is now the person who dropped a few bucks in the Apple store. What does that say about an individual? Not too much, though it indicates a desire to plan ahead and, if the person is a city dweller (which, statistically speaking, they probably are), a lack of social discipline. The only reason to care that it’s going to rain in a few days is if you want to cancel plans. It’s also another excuse to say, “no.” And, in the Netflix era, no one needs that at arm’s length.

Here’s a dramatization to throw the issue into stark relief:

Human One: Want to go have a picnic tomorrow with Human Three and Human Four?

Human Two (pulling up a weather app): It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.

Human One: We can always take our chances and call an audible.

Human Two: There’s a 95 percent chance of rain. I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Human One: What do you want to do instead?

Human Two: I don’t know. I’m terrified of water so I was planning on sitting in my apartment watching the Planet Earth episode about deserts.

The enduring popularity of weather apps in America (thumb through the over 7,600 options that pop up when you search “weather” in the App Store) would make a great deal more sense if America had a wild climate, but we don’t. The contiguous states all boast pretty mild, pretty regular weather patterns. It snows up north sometimes and it rains down south and the wind in the middle can get pretty crazy, but we don’t have a monsoon season and we don’t burn through the summers. On any given day, any American can survive in jeans and a t-shirt. Said American might be very uncomfortable, but they won’t be dead.

And that not-deadness matters because we do so little to prepare for weather anyway. Is having an umbrella handy on appropriate occasions worth giving up on mankind’s all-time favorite guessing game? Is staying dry actually better than getting wet? Is planning ahead really the best way to plan ahead? I would say, “no.” I’d say it three times.

Weather isn’t an inconvenience, it’s Earth’s default setting. Is it gonna rain? I don’t know, but I want to talk about it.

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