Just a few days ago on January 14th, a fast moving squall line moved through North Carolina producing tornadoes and significant disruption. I, like many of you, subscribe to services that text message us when there are weather alerts in the area. However, I didn’t have my cell phone with me at the time. I was upstairs on the computer while my kids had just gone down for nap. Luckily, my wife received the text message just in time for us to grab the kids and head down stairs into the safest room in our house. This, below, is some video (not mine) of what happened just a mile or so away from my home.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t9MpNTSbYg?feature=player_embedded]

Everyone was fine and healthy, but I was a bit surprised at how few options there are right now for getting the word out about dangerous weather. In areas that regularly experience bad weather, many own radios and alert devices to prepare them, but bad weather occurs everywhere and we don’t always have our cell phones with us. Then the simple idea emerged…

A Weather Widget with Purpose

Every weather website out there has weather widgets. You know, the silly sunshine motif with the next 5 days worth of temperatures and rain forecasts that provides no more value than what you can get ubiquitously on your phone, newspaper, television, internet, or by simply asking a neighbor. What none of these widgets do, though, is what they most ought to do – recognize where you are right now, determine whether there is an eminent threat, and present you with relevant information. I envision something like this:


The creation should be as non-invasive as possible. A simple bit of Javascript code is placed on to every web page. The javascript calls back to the main provider to do 3 simple steps…

  1. Look up the IP address in a geo-specific database
  2. Look up current NWS warnings
  3. If there is a match, present an overlay which points the user to more information

Of course, this widget can be unobtrusive, stuffed at the bottom of the page with a nice little copyright link allowing the creator and maintainer to get credit for the good service they are offering to users, but the page needn’t be sullied with redundant weather forecasting like most widgets currently do.

This is the type of widget I would install on all of my websites. It actually does a service for my users, it only intrudes when it is absolutely necessary, and doesn’t require a large amount of code. Hell, I wouldn’t even remove the attribution link.

What is out there now

Right now, there are only a handful of weather widgets doing a couple of things…

  1. Present forecast for a preset area
  2. Geo-locate user and present forecast
  3. List all weather warnings for everywhere
  4. List all weather warnings for a pre-set area defined in widget

But no one yet has created a widget that serve the sole purpose of providing your users with information only when it is extremely relevant. Subsequently, far more webmasters would be willing to install the widget because it doesn’t take up any valuable screen real-estate and provides a unique, targeted, valuable service. Who wouldn’t want to help notify their users of eminent threats to their well being?