Whether the weather you need to weather is coming by land or by sea, we're here to help you prepare for it.
Hurricane season is in full swing, and while we don't yet have the technology to stop hurricanes from wreaking havoc, we do have the technology to help prepare us for the storms to come. Your Android phone is a tool that helps you through most major events in your life, and severe weather is no exception, so long as you properly prep your phone and have a plan in place to follow with it. We are here to help you through the storms to come, so let's batten down the hatches and get the barn doors shut.
Regardless of the kind of weather you'll face when you step outside your door, there are some weather essentials everyone should have on their phones, and that starts with a reliable weather app. Whether you check your forecast once a day, once a week, or once an hour, a good weather app will keep you from getting caught in the rain — or the flash flooding they can bring with them.
There are dozens of weather apps on the Play Store, and while they have various layouts and features, the most important aspect of a weather app can't really be reviewed for everyone: how accurate it is for you. Weather apps pull their data from a variety of weather services, and some are better in some regions than others. It's important to find a weather app that doesn't just look good, but one that's accurate for your area, so that you get the best forecasts available and can be better prepared.
Going local: find a meteorologist you trust
Many local TV stations have weather apps that offer up forecasting directly from their team of meteorologists. They may not be the newest or shiniest apps, but they may very well be the most accurate forecasting you can get, and they almost always offer live streaming during severe weather events. If they're not streaming through their apps, rest assured they'll be streaming on social media or the station's website.
Make sure that during a severe weather event, you have a way to listen to what your local meteorologist is saying. They're going to give you the most up-to-date information and warn anyone in the storm's path more efficiently than a simple NWS alert from a national or international weather app.
Beyond having a weather app and a meteorologist you trust, there are a few other things that are useful to have on your phone at all times:
- Get the number for your local Office of Emergency Management. When severe weather or other disasters occur in your county, the OEM runs the show and coordinates the response. Find their number and put it in your Contacts.
- While you're at it, add in the numbers for all of your insurance companies — medical, auto, homeowners/renters, et cetera — because you might not have internet for a while after a big storm.
- Keep a current photo of yourself, your loved ones (including pets), and your vehicles both backed up to the cloud via Google Photos and stored locally in case the internet is down. You should also take this opportunity to take good, clear photos/scans of your insurance policies in case they get blown away or waterlogged.
Severe Weather Smartphone Accessories
Of course, your phone isn't going to do you much good in an emergency if it's dead or waterlogged, and here are a few accessories that can help ensure that your phone lives through a major severe weather event.
Family pack pouches
Mpow Universal Waterproof Phone Pouch
Mpow's cases are by far the most prevalent and popular waterproof pouches on the market. The set comes in different colors so the whole family can tell their phones apart, and they should last several days so long as you're careful not to rip the plastic when getting your phone in or out of it. This pouch can fit phones with up to a 6-inch diagonal screen, though for phones on the larger end of that scale, you may need to remove their case before you put them in.
Dual-layer Water Protection
CaliCase Waterproof Floating Case
CaliCase is double-layered, comes with a lockable carabiner to keep it strapped to your lanyard/belt/backpack/kayak, and some versions even glow in the dark! The American-made CaliCase comes in a bevy of cool colors and has a Lifetime Warranty. CaliCase also floats (except the clear version), and comes in two sizes to better fit your phone.
Lumina Ultra Compact Portable Charger
Lumina's Ultra Compact Portable Charger offers 5,200 mAh of juice, good for at least one recharge of your phone, and while it isn't a QC quick charger, it's small enough to keep in your pocket alongside your phone as it charges. This battery is vibration proof, meaning it should withstand rough dry environments.
QuickCharge on the go
Aukey 30000mAh USB-C
Go future-proof with this Aukey portable charger, which houses a 30000mAh battery, has one USB-C port and two USB-A ports, and will charge an Android phone roughly five times, depending on usage. Aukey threw in a USB-A to USB-C cable, and there's even a 45-day money back guarantee if you're not satisfied.
Affordable solar power
Be-charming 24,000mAh Portable Solar Charger Power Bank
Be-charming's budget-friendly charger sports three USB ports and a built-in solar panel, so if it takes a few days for power to get restored, the sun can charge up the pack and your phone for you (albeit incredibly slowly). This rugged battery features a super bright LED flashlight, which makes this another boon to your storm prep kit — or a nice camping trip later this fall.
If there aren't any batteries here that spark your interest, check over on Thrifter for more deals on battery packs. Seriously, there's a portable battery of some shape or size on sale almost every day. Most importantly, charge early and often. Once the power's out, you don't know when it's coming back on.
Hurricanes are powerful, devastating, and — for better or worse — slow-moving. If you are in the path of a hurricane, you will (hopefully) have days to prepare, but you, unfortunately, will have far more you need to prepare for than our tornado-facing friends. Radar and weather alerts are slightly less helpful in a hurricane considering how large an area tends to fall under Tropical Storm and Hurricane Watches and Warnings, but there are a number of things you can and should do with your phone to prepare:
- Bookmark the National Hurricane Center's website and subscribe to their new predictions (put out every 6 hours) via Twitter or email.
- Check the American Red Cross's hurricane prep page. I'd direct you to their app, but it's not been behaving well lately.
- Turn on free photo backups in Google Photos. Do it right now and start photographing everything you own for insurance. Your home, your cars, your tech, your loved ones. Photograph or video everything, throw it in a folder in Google Photos, and hope that you don't need to use them to convince your insurance agent that there was not, in fact, a tree on top of your car before the hurricane came.
- While you're taking photos, switch over to a Google Sheets spreadsheet or a Google Keep note as you go and inventory things. Google Keep will also be a good way to keep notes and to-do lists in order as you go through storm prep, buy provisions, and make lists of what needs repairing/replacing once the storm passes.
- Download whatever music/books/movies/games will keep you and your brood sane if and when the networks go down. If you have old/spare phones and tablets, load them up with media so you don't kill the batteries on the phones that matter once the power's out.
Tornadoes and Severe Thunderstorms
While hurricanes usually come with a fair amount of warning, usually you're lucky if you get 15 minutes warning before a tornado hits. In most cases, by the time the National Weather Service sends a Tornado Warning, either there's already been a touchdown or that funnel cloud is really close to it. This is why proper watch/warning alert settings on your weather app of choice are critical.
On many weather apps, Severe Weather Alerts are an all-or-nothing setting — a single toggle — but some apps understand that different levels of weather alert warrant different levels of alarm. For instance, on 1Weather, you can set different sounds for watches and warnings, and you dictate which levels of alert trigger a Vibration, Flash, or Alarm to alert you.
This means that for a Watch, when severe weather is possible, 1Weather can have your phone just vibrate but not play a sound. For a Warning, when severe weather is expected or already arriving, 1Weather can cue the lights and sirens. Meanwhile, the First Alert 25 app used in Central Texas allows you to pick which watches and warnings you are notified for. If you don't want to be bothered with thunderstorm warnings but do want to know about tornado watches and warnings, you can do that, but the Tornado Warning and Thunderstorm Warning are going to give the same tone and vibration.
Broken lines of supercells and isolated tornadic storms are quick to develop, quick to move, and quick to change, so having a good radar app is extremely useful. Nothing quite convinces you to get back inside right now like a nasty mess of red, purple, and black barreling towards your GPS pin on a radar map.
Most weather apps have some kind of radar included, but some are more robust than others. Not everyone needs the professional-level radar of $10 (plus a subscription) RadarScope, but Weather Underground offers an hour loop on its radar as opposed to the half-hour radar loop on most weather apps. The Weather Channel sports a two-hour radar loop. Some apps offer "future radar" rain forecasts, but during severe weather, those will likely not be all that accurate.
Are you ready for the storm?
What other preparations do you make with your phones for severe weather season? And what non-phone preparations have you made? Is there a storm kit in your car or your house? What severe weather alerts do you have set up on your phone? Let us know your severe weather setup in the comments, and if you have any tools in your prep kits that served you well during last year's very active hurricane season, share them!
Updated September 2018: This guide has been updated for everyone that could be facing Hurricanes Florence or Olivia. Stay safe, everyone.