Tornado season is getting into full swing, as witnessed by this week's series of twisters in the Plains, which means anyone in a storm-prone area should be making preparations to stay safe if one comes their way. Here are a few apps that will alert you to storms in the area and give you tips on how to stay safe before, during and after a tornado hits.
Tornado by Red Cross (Free, iOS and Android)
This is the go-to app for basic tornado information. Tornado has weather radar, official alerts from NOAA and a nice loud siren that should wake you up if danger strikes while you're asleep. It also has a guide to help you prepare, listing resources to keep on hand, items to keep in an emergency kit and the locations of nearby shelters. If you were to only install one app from this list, make it this.
NOAA Weather Radio ($1-$4, iOS and Android)
Strictly speaking, you ought to have a plain old weather radio to get these region-specific broadcasts (along with everything else on this list) but it can't hurt to have a backup option. Apps for iOS and Android let you check in on NOAA stations around the country, letting you not only stay informed for your own sake but keep updated on areas where family and friends are. There are a few options for each platform — just make sure you get one that supports live broadcasts for your region.
TornadoSpy+ (Free-$3, iOS)
If you want a few more options and don't mind the idea of crowd-sourcing your safety, TornadoSpy for iOS might be a good buy. It lets anyone with the app report tornado sightings and upload pictures — which means you could get warnings well before they're confirmed by official sources. Just don't get caught up dialing in the particulars of the storm you're watching when you ought to be going as fast as you can in the other direction.
RadarScope ($10, iOS and Android)
Want to do some storm chasing of your own? RadarScope is what the pros have. "Every storm chaser and TV meteorologist I know has the RadarScope app," says says Bill Karins, NBC News' chief meteorologist. "It costs $10 but is worth every penny. [It] lets you know exactly where you are in relation to the storm and tornado." There's even an Apple Watch version.
Local Weather Apps (Free, iOS and Android)
Lots of local news stations have apps that include local weather predictions and city-level alerts, as well as more general news that may be relevant. In Oklahoma, you can't do better than KFOR's 4WarnMe, which sends alerts for earthquakes and other disasters as well. NBC Nebraska Storm Tracker (Android/iOS download) offers similar capabilities in the Cornhusker State, and Storm Team 12 will serve you alerts in Kansas.
Nixle (Free, iOS)
This app isn't Tornado-specific, but it lets local public safety officers and fire departments send out general alerts for your city or area. That means that if schools are closing, if there's a big pile-up on the highway out of town, or if debris is inhibiting rescuers or fire trucks, you'll get a notice. After all, NOAA and tornado spotters won't tell you about gas leaks or escaped tigers.
Storm Shield is another tornado tracker app worth trying if you don't like the look and feel of the others. The GoTenna isn't an app, but it comes with one, allowing you and anyone else with the pocket-sized antenna to exchange locations and messages even when the power and cell networks are down. Crowd-sourced navigation app Waze may help you get out of town without a snag.
Of course, existing apps can only go so far. "What is needed is an app for when severe storms are happening that alerts people in towns downwind. So if hail or tornado is trending, that plots on a map, and then a direction can be gauged," says Karins. "Then a text alert can be sent to the next town."
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