Gone are the days when we needed to find a glass thermometer to see what the weather was: nowadays, anyone can check the weather anytime, anywhere, just by clicking a weather app on their phone or desktop. The meteorological data available to consumers is now so advanced that you can watch the radar anywhere in the world right from your screen, and you can even go back in time and check out historical temperatures all around the globe. 

But how does that information get from weather stations to your phone? Nearly every smartphone app that provides weather forecasting uses an API, or Application Programming Interface, to receive data from a group of sources, parse it into easily understandable terms, and present it to the user. Today, we’ll discuss why almost every weather app uses an API, how they connect apps with information, and how you could get started integrating a weather API into your own projects.

Weather APIs allow developers access to incredibly sophisticated information that they couldn’t gather on their own

Even the simplest weather station costs money to purchase, install, and maintain, and it will only provide highly localized information; while this is fine for very specific applications, such as personal home use, it won’t pass muster for a large-scale application that may have users all across the world. Those who want to share weather information with their user base need to have access to widespread meteorological data, but this would be cost-prohibitive to gather and arrange for most developers.

Instead of collecting everything in-house, a software developer can use an API that collects information from professional meteorological agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, which runs the National Weather Service. The NOAA utilizes an array of devices, such as weather balloons, satellites, ground radar, and aircraft data, which are all combined to create a comprehensive forecast for current and future weather events. Once it’s collected and crunched by the NOAA’s supercomputers, it is placed into ever-updating databases, which are made available to the public. 

Weather API technology will connect an application to these enormous databases through the use of an API key, which essentially tells the database that this application is allowed to access the information. You can think of an API as the door into the warehouse of data; when signing up with an API, they provide you with documentation that explains exactly how to phrase your requests to retrieve the data you need, as well as the key necessary to get inside. This allows you to gather a wealth of weather information that is constantly updated, but without having to store all of that data on your own servers or in your application. 

Weather APIs are very easy to use for everyone from experienced software developers to the average hobbyist

Whether you’re developing a new application for the commercial market or just making a fun tool to share with your friends, a weather API is a highly useful tool with endless possibilities. If you’re designing a new website, you might consider placing a weather widget on the front page to provide better benefits to your customers; you could also integrate it into productivity apps, calendars, or news sites for a more personalized touch. 

Mobile or console game developers - as well as those who enjoy modding their favorite games - might utilize weather tracking to create customized weather experiences for applications that require internet connectivity. Data science students can use weather APIs to gather information about past and present weather events, and it can prove incredibly useful for climatologists and even historians.

To get started with APIs, you need to read the documentation provided by the specific provider in order to get familiar with how to utilize the service, as well as what kinds of information are available. This is usually publicly available, so you can take your time in researching which API has exactly what you’re looking for. 

Once you’ve decided that you want to use a particular API, you need to sign up for an API key, as this allows you to make requests to their system. The documentation will explain how to phrase your queries and how to integrate the API key, so be sure to follow this carefully so that your requests don’t bounce. There is usually a rate limit or a given number of requests you can make in a certain period of time; if you go over this limit, you may incur additional fees or have your access cut off. You should also check if there are any restrictions on how you can use their data and if you need to attribute them in some way, either inside the code or on your app.

In conclusion

It’s mind-blowing how accurate weather forecasting has become in the past few years, and it will only continue to improve, as meteorologists and data scientists work together to better understand the climate and the simulations they use. Anyone who wishes to include weather information on their website or in their app can access this information through APIs, which are incredibly easy to implement for even the most basic coder. 

These tools make weather forecasting easy by relying upon the power of big data collected by some of the most sophisticated hardware on the planet - letting everyone enjoy the benefits of great technology with only a fraction of the work.