Hurricane Irene apps, maps and more

The last time a hurricane hit New England, it was 1991 -- 2 years before I'd even seen the World Wide Web, let alone used it; and long before the era of smartphones and social media. After Hurricane Bob, I was out volunteering for the Red Cross with my handheld ham radio to help provide post-storm communications. 21st-century technology has made it a lot easier to track Hurricane Irene as it heads toward the Eastern U.S. Here are some resources and tools to keep up with the storm:

iPhone/iPad/iTouch: As you might have guessed (if you haven't looked already), there are a number of hurricane-tracking apps available for iOS. I went with the popular and highly rated Hurricane Tracker, a handy collection of info from multiple sources. Its Irene page has links to National Hurricane Center advisories, discussions, audio updates and maps -- lots of maps; computer models from several sources and push alerts. They also do their own audio and video updates, although those don't seem to be updated very frequently (this morning, I still saw the video from yesterday afternoon). It costs $2.99. A nice feature: You can set any page within the app as your home screen, so the next time you open the app it sends you there instead of, say, having to wade through the data navigation to get to Irene.

One free alternative is iHurricane HD from HurricaneSoftware.com, which includes maps and warnings as well as email alerts. For $2.99, you can get additional features such as push notifications on your device. I preferred the Hurricane Tracker interface and additional sources, but iHurricane HD at least lets you check out a free, ad-supported version before deciding whether to buy.

Android: HurricaneSoftware.com also has a free hurricane tracker for Android (as well as for Windows Phone 7.).

Twitter: Unless it's your your full-time job to monitor the hurricane, following the #irene hashtag will likely sned you into tweet overload. You're probably better off finding a few sources and collecting them in a list to monitor. If you'd like, you can follow my Hurricane Irene Twitter list in your own Twitter account. That list includes the National Hurricane Center and Federal Emergency Management Agency as well as several weather sources such as AccuWeather's breaking news, The Weather Channel's Hurricane Twitter account and Weather Underground.

The Web: This may seem like almost quaint way to follow breaking news these days; but if you're sitting at a desktop system, it's got its advantages, such as a large screen and in-depth info. Some Web pages of note:

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of information about Hurricane Irene on the National Hurricane Center home page. You can also subscribe to latest Irene updates via RSS.

For more location-specific info, see the National Hurricane Center's list of local statements for Irene. For New Yorkers specifically, WNYC has posted a map of New York City evacuation zones A, B and C  in case evacuations are ordered. If you're looking for local media Web sites reporting on the storm, the National Hurricane Center's map of sites carrying its info could be useful.

Useful weather-specific sites covering Irene: The Weather Channel's Hurricane Central, Accuweather and Weather Underground. Update: Good suggestion from a Google+ comment: Stormpulse.com, which includes maps and info from several sources.

And, as I posted yesterday, ESRI has a nice mashup map of hurricane track combined with tweets, Flickr photos and YouTube videos. Update :Google Crisis Response has posed an embeddable map with layers you can turn on and off about the hurricane's track, evacuation areas, warnings, satellite imagery and other data.

Mapping: There are plenty of maps in sources listed above. But if you're a do-it-yourselfer, the Google Earth blog posted tips on how to view the hurricane in Google Earth as well as some additional tools. If you'd like to track in your own GIS software, you can find a list of National Hurricane Center GIS files to download here.

Also see how IT departments should prepare for Hurricane Irene.

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter @sharon000, on Facebook, on Google+ or by subscribing to her RSS feeds:
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