If you're a weather geek and have a few bucks to burn, there are quite a few excellent weather radar programs available for download. Trying to judge which one is the best can be tough, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. Let's take a look at the best (and the worst) weather radar programs.
The Best: GRLevel2 Analyst
GRLevel2 Analyst (or GR2A) is a program produced by Gibson Ridge, and it is the cream of the crop when it comes to weather radar programs. The program is so powerful that even the National Weather Service uses it as a supplement to their own suite of software.
The software is what I use to post radar images here on The Vane, and GR2A is just as awesome as it is powerful.
A $250 one-time fee.
The biggest feature that comes with GR2A is its ability to display super-resolution Level II radar data, which is a resolution four times higher than Level III data (which is what you commonly see).
GR2A also features a cross-section tool that lets you slice features in half and view their internal workings. This is great for supercells and other storms of interest.
The coolest feature in the program is the volume explorer, which takes into account all 13-15 radar sweeps and extrapolates the precipitation down between the layers. The result is a three-dimensional look at the storm, and the product is often extremely interesting (and useful in a forecast setting).
The powerful features included in GR2A, along with its Landsat backgrounds and extreme level of customization, makes this program the best of the best. It's a bit pricey at $250, but it's well worth it.
A $79.95 one-time fee.
In addition to being able to see NEXRAD storm attributes (including storm tracks), users can also view rainfall estimates (in one-hour, three-hour, and storm total increments), composite reflectivity (which combines all radar sweeps into one image), as well as low-resolution dual-polarization data.
To help you visualize the different in resolution between Level II and Level III radar data, take a look at the images I used at the top of the GR2A and GRLevel3 sections. They're of the same storm in Nebraska earlier this week. Here's another example using a shield of rain over western Iowa:
Smoothing is generally frowned upon by purist weather geeks, but it's necessary in GRLevel3 in order to look past the pixelated precipitation.
Overall, the Gibson Ridge programs are the most powerful on the market, and if you're willing to drop a chunk of change for GR2a or the cost of a new video game (plus a pizza) on GRLevel3, your inner weather geek will be more than satisfied.
While it's the most popular, Gibson Ridge certainly doesn't have a monopoly on weather radar programs. Another popular piece of software weather enthusiasts use is called StormLab. Out of all of the programs on this list, StormLab is likely the closest and most powerful behind the Gibson Ridge products.
A one-time fee of $100 for Standard and $179.95 for Supercharged. However, as of this post, both versions were on sale with Standard going for $75 and Supercharged for $130.
StormLab Standard is similar to GRLevel3, featuring Level III radar data and some barebones tools to track precipitation. The cool thing about this program is that it comes with audio alerts to warn users when the a storm gains certain attributes (hail or rotation, for example). The program also features an "auto-archive" feature, which their site claims to save radar imagery to your computer when you're away.
StormLab Supercharged is similar to GR2A, using super-resolution Level II data to give users a better look at storms than the cheaper version. While you can't take a vertical cross-section or create a 3D rendering of storms, the Supercharged version comes with a "pathcast" much like you would see on the local news. The pathcast—the cone and blue box shown in the snapshot at the top of this section—allows you to use the storm's motion and speed to determine at what time that part of the storm will reach cities in the cone.
Although it's a bit pricier than it's worth, StormLab is a pretty good program for people looking for solid radar software without all of the fancy analysis tools that Gibson Ridge provides.
WeatherStudio is a neat little program that uses lower-resolution Level III data in conjunction with satellite and model data imagery in order to provide users with a complete analysis tool rather than just a look at radar data.
A $79.99 one-time fee for personal users; $249.99 one-time fee for commercial users.
In addition to the radar, this program allows users to add model imagery from the NAM (North American Model) and GFS (American global model), as well as forecast data from the National Weather Service, Storm Prediction Center, and National Hurricane Center.
In other words, the program is flush with data. It's data overload, almost. The only problem I had with the program is that it ran really rough on my (somewhat powerful) computer once I loaded the radar with model data. I hate to keep comparing other software to Gibson Ridge products, but WeatherStudio is very, very similar to GREarth for those who are familiar with it.
$7.99 per month or $83.95 per year.
While RadarLab HD isn't fancy, it does show Level II radar data with accompanying map overlays. Overlays include severe weather watches, warnings, lightning data, and several other features that enhance the radar and maps with additional information. It's not the best—the website is pretty laggy—but it might be ideal for users who want to spend $21 on a slight radar upgrade for just the springtime severe weather season without having to commit to a hefty one-time software purchase.
I saved Weather Defender for the end because it's my least favorite of all of the reputable radar programs. This piece of software is largely aimed at corporate users who need to keep tabs on storms for stuff like outdoor events or shipping—their website proudly boasts that Kellogg's uses Weather Defender (and thinks it's grrrrrrrreat!).
They make it extremely hard to find a price on their site — it's virtually nonexistent unless you commit to downloading it and jumping through hoops. According to CNET, the program costs $21.95, but it doesn't specify if that's a one-time fee or a recurring monthly or yearly subscription.
Warning and watch polygons, Level III radar data, lightning plots.
RadarScope is an excellent program for users of Apple products (computers, phones, and tables) as well as folks who have phones that run Android. It's an app that provides smooth, useful Level II radar data.
$9.99 one-time fee on both iTunes and Google Play for phones/tablets; $29.99 for Mac*.
Since RadarScope is an app, it doesn't have bells and whistles, but it's powerful and useful for any severe weather situation. The app comes with Level II radar data and warning data from the National Weather Service, and users can use their AllisonHouse subscriptions for extra addons (such as lightning data).