My New Weather Station – Part One
Since I completed the ‘Understanding the Weather’ Open University Short Science Course late last year I’ve been bitten by the weather bug. I keep a close eye on weather forecasts on both the UK MET Office web site and on the television and examine the sky to try and forecast short term (4-6 hour) changes in the weather. Given my new-found interest in meteorology the logical next step would be to setup my own home weather station and that is exactly what I have done this weekend.
A home weather station will typically comprise of a range of sensor to measure temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind speed, wind direction and rainfall. In addition, it will include a base station to collate the readings from the various sensors and present them via a screen. The sensors communicate with their base station wirelessly. Optionally data can be collected from the base station for use with a PC. Really fancy weather stations will go one better and automatically record all readings to a data logger and report it live to a web site.
When purchasing a home weather station it is possible to spend a relatively little (< £100) or a lot (> £1,000). As this is my first weather station I did not want to be too extravagant but, at the same time, didn’t want to buy cheap kit which was not fit for purpose. After some research I settled on an Oregon Scientific WMR88 which retails at £150. This package includes three separate outdoor sensors for temperature/humidity, wind speed/wind direction and rainfall. Having separate sensors was crucial for me as an all-in-one sensor solution would not work well on my property as each sensor has different criteria for optimal placement. Where I live there is no single place that would satisfy this criteria for all sensor types. In addition to the outdoor sensors the base station also measures indoor temperature/humidity and atmospheric pressure. The WMR88 allows a PC to be hooked up to the base station via USB for weather data to be extracted in realtime. While looking at live and summarised weather data on the base station’s screen is cool actually having the data to play with is even better.
As luck would have it Amazon were offering a discount on this model. In fact the discount was so hefty it struck me as being a mistake on their part – £75 was all they were asking. This was so cheap that it would cost less than lesser Oregon Scientific weather stations they were also selling. I ordered my bargain immediately and noted that scant hours later the price had risen to £130. To their credit Amazon have billed me £75 despite this being an obvious listing error.
My weather station arrived four days later in a large but well packaged and well presented box:
I immediately unpackaged the contents and compared them with the manifest in the instructions:
Top-left: Rain Gauge, Fixing Set of 4 screws and 6 washers, 2AA batteries
Top-Right: Wind Sensor (Anemometer & Wind Vane), Connector, U-bolt, 4 screws, 2 AA batteries
Bottom-left: Temperature & Humidity Sensor, Wall mount, table stand, 2 AAA batteries
Bottom-middle: Quick Start Guide and Manual
Bottom-right: Base station, USB cable, Power Adapter, 4 AA batteries
The kit contains everything needed to get up and running for an ideal install. That is, where you happen to have perfect install locations for the sensors on your property. I didn’t have ideal locations which is where most of the fun of the install came from and which I will describe in part 2 of this post.
The PC software was not included but is a free download. This makes a lot of sense as software CDs tend to be a waste for non-networking kit as they typically hold out-of-date versions of software.
Everything was present but not everything was correct. All sensors and the base station are battery powered. However, there is the option of powering the base station with the supplied power adapter. Unfortunately the adapter I had been supplied with was the EU model not the UK one. A quick call to Amazon resolved the issue to my satisfaction (to be fair they called me immediately after I completed an online form with my telephone number – this is great customer service). I was offered a replacement or a £10 discount. I gratefully accepted the latter as I knew I could source an EU to UK adapter for only a couple of pounds and did not want to wait for a replacement. In the meantime the base station could operate off batteries. My weather station was now even more of a bargain at less that half price.
The first step was to get the base station up and running. This is a simple matter of powering it via batteries or the power adapter. It will immediately begin displaying indoor temperature and humidity data as well as atmospheric pressure. The only calibration required is to set your altitude as atmospheric pressure readings must be adjusted for higher altitudes. Finding the altitude at your location is made easy by various online services. Used this one daftlogic.com. Entering the value into the base station is simple enough and accepts values in the tens of metres (more than accurate enough for the pressure adjustment the base station will carry out).
The base station also records the current data and time. This is useful when looking at min and max records as these timestamped and for the built in moon phase display. You can set the date and time manually but its easier to let it set itself using clock synchronisation. This nifty feature has the base station listen out for time synchronisation signals from Anthorn in NW England where several atomic clocks are located and set its date and time automatically.
The base station displays a wealth of information including the latest sensor readings in various units of measurement, 24-hour highs and lows with timestamps, derived measurements such as wind chill and dew point, a local forecast based on sensor readings and the moon phase. Here it is with the timed back-light on and all sensors hooked up:
I only have two minor issues with the base station. First of all some of the smaller items on the display can be difficult to read. Fortunately the small text is confined to a minority of labels rather than actual readings and the inclusion of a strong back-light helps. The second issue has no work-around and is that the base station emits a loud beep whenever a button a navigation button is pressed. This is irritating and I cannot find a way to switch it off. However, these are niggling flaws and otherwise the base station is a nice bit of kit which looks good in the living room and presents its information intuitively.
In follow-up posts I will describe the process of fitting the outdoor sensors and collecting data from the base station to PC. This is where the real fun is to be had.