A guide to personal weather stations

Have you ever checked the local weather report and been told it was sunny out when rain was pelting your window? There's a reason for that: Weather updates depend on the location of the monitoring equipment, often at airports, where conditions can be quite different from where you are. • For people who want hyperlocal information — gardeners, golfers, sailors and just plain old weather geeks — there are personal weather stations, which have gotten technologically more sophisticated yet increasingly easy to set up and use.

David Kabal, a 41-year-old firefighter in Boulder, Colo., put a personal weather station in his back yard in 2007. When his colleagues saw the specificity of the data he was posting online, they asked him to install weather stations at two distant firehouses to help them predict and fight wildfires. "When a fire breaks out, we check the closest station's weather," said Kabal, because wind direction and humidity are strong indicators of the course and intensity of a blaze.

Personal weather stations range from $150 to $2,500, depending on the quality and accuracy of the equipment. "It's like a lot of things: You get what you pay for," said George Bridgers, 39, an environmental scientist in Raleigh, N.C. The personal weather station he installed in his back yard cost about $500, which he said is what you should expect to pay "if you want something that will last and will have a minimal amount of failure."

Manufacturers of popular weather monitoring systems include Davis Instruments, Oregon Scientific, Peet Bros. and RainWise. If you want professional-grade equipment comparable to what is found at airports, check out more expensive rigs by Campbell Scientific, MetOne, Vaisala and Young.

Regardless of price, look for sturdy construction and materials. You want a unit that will survive foul as well as fair weather. Metal is the best option, but also the most costly. Basic systems measure temperature, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, rainfall and humidity. Nice add-ons are sensors that detect ultraviolet intensity, soil moisture, soil temperature and lightning.

Try not to get too wowed by some of the technology, though. While there are clever rain-gathering and wind-measuring devices that rely on disruption of sound waves to arrive at totals, traditional spinning wind cups, weather vanes and rain gauges tend to be less prone to false disturbances.

Weather hobbyists favor solar-powered systems because you don't have to replace the batteries as often, and wireless units are handy because you won't have electrical cords running across your yard, which "rodents like to chew on," Kabal said.

Another nice feature is a receiver, or console, that will upload your weather data either directly to the Internet or to a home computer.

This allows you to display the data on a personal website or maybe share it with weather networks such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP) and Weather Underground's Personal Weather Station (PWS) Network. More than 29,000 people contribute data to one or both of the networks, which use the information to improve the accuracy and specificity of weather reports issued to the general public.

CWOP gives members feedback on how their data compare to those of other stations in their area. If the variance is suspiciously large, it might be time to re-calibrate your system or perhaps move it to a site that allows for more accurate readings. CWOP, as well as Weather Underground, which is owned by the Weather Channel, provides helpful tips on where to locate weather stations for best results.

Among the many choices of software for interpreting and displaying data transmitted from weather stations are WeatherLink, Weather Display, Cumulus and WeatherSnoop. The dashboards, color displays and arrangements vary and are very much a matter of taste, if not budget, as prices range from free to $300.

If none of the commercially available programs suit you, several individuals have written their own software that they are eager to share. A good way to identify and assess all the different options is to look at wxforum.net, a community of weather enthusiasts.

A guide to personal weather stations 07/20/13 [Last modified: Sunday, July 21, 2013 7:28pm]

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