Media Scene

Rating TV weather apps on the small screen

mwashburn@charlotteobserver.com

Screenshots of weather apps for Charlotte TV stations WBTV, WSOC and WCNC
Screenshots of weather apps for Charlotte TV stations WBTV, WSOC and WCNC

Things that tumble from the sky have always been popular topics for TV, be they aircraft, asteroids or ice.

Three local stations in Charlotte offer phone apps for weather, and we decided to compare them. They can use a lot of memory, so depending on what you’re looking for, it doesn’t make sense to load more than one.

Each has certain strengths. WCNC (Channel 36) offers an app that has all the relevant information packed onto the front page. WBTV (Channel 3) offers a traffic overlay on the weather radar. WSOC’s (Channel 9) design has the best graphics and easy-to-use pull-down menus.

Weather apps are a great way for stations to connect to viewers – particularly the tech-savvy younger ones who are difficult to reach through old media approaches – and reinforce their weather department brands, where millions of dollars are invested.

Judging the apps with me were April Bethea, a producer in the Observer’s digital news center, and Steve Lyttle, the newly retired Observer reporter who wrote our weather blog and continues it on Facebook at Weather With Steve.

Here’s what we found, app by app.

WBTV

WBTV’s was the most compact memory-wise, at 6.39 mb, less than half of what the other apps require. There’s lots of info on its busy front page, including a three-day forecast.

While the current temperature seems too small, WBTV’s radar has the widest view, taking in the foothills and stretching deep into the Piedmont. It has live streams for the latest forecast and also for news from the station.

In terms of engagement, photos are easy to share with WBTV, even without being in the app.

WSOC

WSOC’s app, supplied by its parent Cox, hogs the most memory at 20.8 mb, much of it to power superior graphics with animation as good as what you’ll see on TV. WSOC will give you push alerts to a few weather notifications, but wants a $5 one-time fee for alerts going beyond standard storm watches. Covered in the add-on fee is a dense fog warning, which would be useful here.

Its app puts temperatures in easy-to-read big numbers on the radar screen and in the current conditions zone. It has the easiest to use pull-down menu that gives school closings and other messages from the Channel 9 newsroom.

In social engagement, the app gives you direct links to Facebook and other social media plus an option to send and view photos to the station with a single click, though the pictures posted need more caption information.

WSOC’s app lets you set alerts for other locations – if you want to know whether your mother’s home is under a tornado warning, for example, you can put that address in to get alerts. WSOC’s weather app was the easiest to learn and easiest to use in our rankings.

WCNC

WCNC’s app, which is supplied by its parent company Gannett, weighs in at a hefty 17.85 mb. Its front page is packed and too busy, though you really don’t have to dive any deeper to find what you need to know.

Shoe-horned into the page is a seven-day forecast. WCNC has the smallest range on the radar screen, reaching from Gastonia to Midland.

Its design is best for working with social media, particularly sharing the forecast. It’s easy to upload photos and the easy-to-reach camera icon encourages sending pictures.

Finding the apps

When shopping in the app store, WCNC’s app is called WeatherCaster. WBTV and WSOC weather apps go by their station names.

Each of the apps appropriately stresses local conditions. For absolute weather geeks, Lyttle recommends downloading Raleigh’s WRAL (Channel 5) apps (it has two).

WRAL’s chief meteorologist Greg Fischel, a veteran of 34 years at the station, is considered a giant in Carolinas forecasting and his opinions on developing conditions are widely watched. Lyttle also recommends the weather app from Atlanta’s WSB. CharlotteObserver.com’s app offers rudimentary information like forecasts and conditions, but those who like to dive deeper might want to check out the apps offered by Weather Underground and WeatherBug.

Who’s on the move in Charlotte’s media world? See Mark Washburn’s Media Movers.

Washburn: 704-358-5007;

Twitter: @WashburnChObs.

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