DarkSky, the popular iPhone and Android weather app with dazzling graphics and hyper-specific forecasts, has made a transition onto your desktop.
The company launched DarkSky.net earlier this month in an effort to bring its design philosophy and forecasting prowess to a broader audience. Like the app, the website features local forecasts presented in a deterministic way, meaning it will tell you when it will rain, rather than a probability of precipitation.
DarkSky is the product of a team of six people, none of whom are meteorologists. The Boston-based company would not reveal any user figures to Mashable, but anecdotal evidence gathered through social media suggests it has a sizable, cult-like following.
Adam Grossman, the co-founder of DarkSky, told Mashable the website is in part a marketing move to boost name recognition of the app.
“The biggest reason we launched this website is DarkSky is an app and a ‘for pay’ app,” Grossman said. “We have a lot of users,” he said, but “it doesn’t get a huge lot of exposure that say a website would.”
“We tried to make, spend a lot of effort making beautiful maps. There’s something different about having it on a big screen,” he said.
DarkSky relies on two different streams of information to produce the weather forecasts its users rely on. For precise estimates of rain or snow start and stop times, the company projects the movement of radar echoes from federal government weather radars.
“We take in the raw radar data from the NWS in the U.S. and the Met Office in the UK,” he said.
For the longer-range forecasts that DarkSky offers, the company pulls in data from about 10 weather models, including the U.S. Global Forecast System, or GFS model, and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts model, or ECMWF.
The company then compares historical weather data to the computer model projections and gives each model solution a weighted average based on how accurate their computers calculate each model is for a particular point.
Grossman said the company’s trademark is its precision rainfall forecasts, which other, more popular weather apps aren’t doing, or aren’t doing well. In fact, when DarkSky first launched, all it offered were minute-by-minute precipitation forecasts out to one hour in advance.
The first time the app says it will rain in five minutes, and then it does, it “kind of feels like magic,” Grossman says.
“That’s our hook, that’s what the app is all about. Having that kind of constrained focus gives something for users to latch onto and appreciate.”
DarkSky visualization of wind speed and direction.
Plans for the website include adding different maps, including snowfall accumulation forecasts.
“Our goal with the maps is to make them clear and easy to understand,” Grossman wrote in a blog post on the company’s website.
“The whole purpose of weather maps is to provide context for the forecast, to give you a bigger-picture view of what’s happening. So often, though, weather maps serve only to confuse and obfuscate, with weird lines, befuddling isobars, and garish colors. So we’ve designed ours to be an aid to understanding, and I think they turned out downright gorgeous.”
Interestingly, the company’s philosophy that weather maps should be visually striking, and not necessarily complicated, has not earned it many fans in the weather industry itself.
While meteorologists generally are not in favor of overly complicated maps, to them, isobars (lines of equal air pressure) and other data are crucial to understanding the weather. That’s why meteorologists have flocked to high-cost, fully loaded apps like RadarScope, which gives users the ability to access multiple parameters from live Doppler radar feeds in the U.S. and Canada, plus lightning strike data.
For forecasters, raw data like that is more useful, even if it’s somewhat more complicated and less elegant in presentation. RadarScope’s creators were even honored by the American Meteorological Society in 2015.