Weather is one of the most popular API categories on ProgrammableWeb and one of the hottest topics in the technology industry these days. Weather is especially popular when it comes to mobile devices, which is not surprising considering that weather data-powered applications can be found on nearly every smartphone and mobile device.
A few months ago, ProgrammableWeb published an article featuring the top 10 weather APIs and some of the popular technological uses of weather. One of the more recent technological uses is to create weather-informed digital advertising. Another increasingly popular trend is the crowdsourcing of weather-related applications and devices.
This article takes a detailed look at three of the most popular weather platforms and APIs: Forecast.io, Weather Underground (Wunderground) and World Weather Online (free and premium). This is not a comprehensive comparison of all three platforms. However, this article does compare some of the key weather data features each company has made available via API. These companies were chosen for comparison because they all provide APIs that are included in ProgrammableWeb's top 10 weather APIs list, all three include some of the same weather data features, and all three companies offer both freemium and paid API plans.
To create a side-by-side comparison, online public information, including company websites, API documentation, developer forums, Twitter and other sources, was reviewed. The comparison charts were created using Google Charts, which is part of the Google Visualization API.
Weather Data Features
This chart contains descriptions for some of the weather data features shown in comparison charts below.
All three platforms feature current weather conditions and astronomy. However, these platforms differ when it comes to other weather data features such as severe alerts, almanac, radar and satellite imagery, and maps. Of the three companies, Weather Underground is the only platform where radar imagery, satellite imagery, and radar and satellite imagery can be called with the API. The World Weather Online API allows developers to use the "showmap" parameter, which returns a series of GIF images for rain, snow and pressure map, and surface temperature map. The Forecast.io API does not return weather data imagery at this time.
All three platforms feature local weather forecast data in hourly increments/time intervals. World Weather Online also offers weather forecasts in time intervals of three, six, 12 and 24 hours. Weather Underground and Forecast.io feature weather forecasts in a summary format. The number of days out for weather forecasts varies among the three platforms.
Weather Underground, Forecast.io and World Weather Online all allow historical/past weather data to be retrieved via API. The amount of time that weather data history goes back varies greatly among all three platforms. The Forecast.io API documentation states that historical data can be retrieved for many places as far back as 60 years.
World Weather Online features a marine, sailing and surfing weather API designed for sea users that includes significant wave height, swell height, swell period, swell direction and tide data. The API provides accurate weather data across worldwide locations for up to seven days for premium API users.
Weather Underground does not feature a marine, sailing and surfing weather API. However, the Wunderground API does feature tide data as well as information about current hurricanes and tropical storms. The Forecast.io API does not feature tide data or information about current hurricanes and tropical storms at this time.
Ski and Mountain Weather
World Weather Online features a mountain and ski weather API that includes snow data as well as top, middle and bottom elevations forecasts. Weather Underground and Forecast.io provide snow data for specified locations but do not feature ski and mountain weather data and forecasts.
At the time of this writing, all three companies offer freemium and paid plans for their APIs. The pricing for each of these three weather APIs varies widely, with Forecast.io offering pay-as-you-go pricing (price is per API call); Weather Underground and World Weather Online offer monthly subscription pricing for their APIs. World Weather Online pricing is based on API features and API requests per day. A price calculator on the World Weather Online website determines the total cost for the API.
All three companies offer multiple language support and fully automated API key and account creation.
The Weather Underground and World Weather Online platforms each feature location search, a function that allows a query value to return information about a specified location. Weather Underground offers an AutoComplete API in addition to its location search/geolookup API. The AutoComplete API returns a list of locations or hurricanes that match against a partial query. The Wunderground AutoComplete API also includes the ability to query for cities, hurricanes or both.
World Weather Online features a Search API that takes a query value and returns information about the specified location. The premium API returns 100 location search results and the Free API returns 30. The World Weather Online Search API also features the ability to return the nearest ski, cricket, soccer, fishing or golf locations by using the "wct" parameter (example wct=fishing).
All three weather data platforms support JSON and JSON-P data formats. The Wunderground API and World Weather Online API are also capable of generating API responses in XML format. The World Weather Online API includes some support for CSV and TAB data formats.
All three companies provide easily accessible API documentation that is well designed and understandable. World Weather Online recently updated its API documentation and developer Web pages. The API documentation is still well designed and easy to follow. However, the getting started page, the interactive API explorer, code samples and icons can only be found on the developer login/register pages (links in the website footer).
All three companies provide some code samples and client libraries for their APIs; however, none of these weather platforms has a detailed API tutorial or walkthrough available for developers.
Weather Underground has quite a few free icon sets available for use with its API. World Weather Online offers nicely designed icons sets that are available for purchase via a third party (icons are by former BBC Weather designer Mike Afford).
Of the three, Weather Underground is the only company to provide a developer forum for its API. It is also the only company that has a separate Twitter account for its API.
All three companies could use some improvement when it comes to developer support. I'd like to see all of these companies have standalone, actively maintained developer/API blogs and provide detailed API tutorials and walkthroughs for developers. I'd also like to see separate Twitter accounts for the Forecast.io API and World Weather Online API that provide regular updates and news.
Forecast.io, Weather Underground and World Weather Online are among the most popular weather data platforms, and all three provide APIs that feature current weather conditions, weather forecasts, historical weather data, astronomy data and more. While all three platforms provide many of the same weather data features, there are many differences among them.
Weather Underground is the only company that provides an API featuring radar and satellite imagery, almanac data (historical average temperature for today), and information about current hurricanes and tropical storms. World Weather Online provides a separate API for marine, sailing and surfing weather, and a separate API for mountain and ski weather. World Weather Online also provides a search API that can return the nearest ski, cricket, soccer, fishing and golf locations. Of the three weather platforms, Forecast.io is the only one that features historical weather data that for many places goes as far back as 60 years.
All three platforms provide weather data features that developers can use to create innovative and useful weather applications. With the many differences between these three weather data platforms and APIs, the best way to decide which platform is the best choice for your project is to try them all out. All three companies offer free trials of their weather data APIs. To find out more about the many available weather APIs, check out ProgrammableWeb's "Top 10 Weather APIs" article.