Meeting people from different countries is great, until you fall in love with one of them – an American, no less – and then your home is a cultural battleground. Duvet cover or top sheet? Drying rack or tumble dryer? A sane Christmas, or a consumerist hellscape? I thought I’d come to terms with what it meant to share my home with an American – I mean, I have a drinks fridge in my bedroom now, so I understand compromise. But let this be a warning: there’s always a fresh camel to swallow.
Because now, Luke and I are finding ourselves at odds over the weather, of all things. Brits are famous worldwide for our appetite for talking about the weather, which is fair as UK weather is far more fiddly and changeable than anywhere I’ve lived. It’s rain, sure, but what kind? Is it a 20-minute shower that will clear up, or will it turn into something that makes off with your bin lids? I respect London rain and know it holds the power, and when it turns my flimsy pocket umbrella inside out, I accept that as fair game. But even after a decade in the UK, Luke doesn’t carry an umbrella, sticking to what he calls the “Seattle umbrella” – a hoodie.
The worst part is that he refuses to accept that American weather apps are just no good. Luke swears by “the Wizards of Cupertino” – that’s Apple – while I have become convinced they know nothing about London rain. I’ve often headed out on the assumption that when the Apple weather app chose the cloud with rain as the day’s icon, it meant rain! Dressing wrongly for the weather is never great, but a specific frustration comes with trudging out in long sleeves and rain boots only to see the sun come out. Not only are you now roasting, but you’re also failing to enjoy a rare moment of English summer.
I’ve come to the conclusion that Apple takes a far too simplistic view of the weather. It’s not that they think it will rain all day, but rather that they default to the worst weather as the day’s prediction. I get it: if you lived in a gloriously sunny place, you might pass it if it was raining on and off. But here, we don’t have that kind of luxury, so my app of choice is the UK Met Office – it takes a far more pragmatic view. Two hours of rain and the rest of the day is good? Sunny icon up top! This is an app that knows we’ll carry an umbrella on all but the most scorching days – a shower is not a dealbreaker.
Before you come for me, let me just say this is my personal experience. And after a little research, I’ve realised there’s a lot to be said about local knowledge to get the weather predictions right.
There are dozens of weather apps, but most of them get their data from the same few sources. Different apps might add data from local weather stations and adjust forecasts based on their own models. When you watch a meteorologist on TV, the core data will be filtered through their knowledge as they consider how the west side of that hill tends to get the rain and the east side doesn’t. The apps, however, have no gut feeling – they just have their algorithms and AI. An app with zero human interfaces might opt to predict the weather as the average of the options, which may explain why so many days in the UK are predicted with that icon that’s a cloud with both rain and sun.
When ForecastAdvisor rated US weather apps for accuracy, the best ones were the Weather Channel (used by Google), Microsoft, Global Weather Corporation, Foreca, and AccuWeather. “The Apple app, although not rated by ForecastAdvisor, has a reputation for off-the-mark forecasts and has been consistently criticised for presenting faulty radar screens, mixing up precipitation totals, or breaking altogether,” Charlie Warzel wrote in The Atlantic: “Dozens of times, the Apple Weather app has lulled me into a false sense of security, leaving me wet and betrayed after a run, bike ride, or round of golf.”
The UK Met Office publishes its own stats: it’s 86-95% accurate when it comes to predicting temperature. But accuracy is one thing, and understanding what locals want is another. Does Cupertino realise just how muggy it gets here? In my experience, a sunny 18C in London is pretty warm, while a sunny 18C in California is not. “Weather is data,” Luke said when I lamented this to him – it may not be fair to demand intimate local knowledge. I was about to concede this point when Luke reminded me he didn’t understand what I was saying anyway because he uses “freedom units” (Fahrenheit), which is unacceptable even as a joke and derailed the conversation.
This is England, and summer is a brief candle – I’m sticking with the Met Office app, which understands this better than any other. Here’s a free idea for an enterprising product manager: how great would it be to get push notifications for when the best part of the day is coming? Imagine alerts for brief blue skies in the dead of winter or a flash when a summer day that started out miserably is on the turn! Never mind what it’s like for most of the day – I want an app that celebrates the best parts of our fickle weather. After all, those sunny evenings after rip-roaring rain are some of the sweetest days of summer.