Much of what influences your local weather can’t be seen or felt – at least, not with any degree of precision. Yet, even if we’re not always aware of it, atmospheric conditions affect the kinds of activities we can engage in, how much time we have to waste in traffic, and even our mood.
To give one example, violent crime increases when temperatures and barometric pressure are high (though it’s not certain exactly why).
While a weather station can’t control the weather, it can help you adapt to and anticipate changes. If you have a large garden or a boat, this might make a significant difference to your life. Even if you don’t, knowing with more certainty when you should pull a sweater over your child’s head is worth it.
Each of these examples would require a different set of features, and you shouldn’t pay more than you have to. A more expensive model is generally better in some ways, but may not be better for you. If you’re not sure yet exactly what you expect from your new weather station, you can almost certainly gain more clarity by reading through this section.
Why Buy a Weather Monitor?
The first reason having a weather monitor makes your life easier is simple convenience. If you know that rain is likely, you can reschedule a picnic. If humidity is very high, you can style your hair differently to avoid frizziness. We may spend most of our time indoors, but the weather has a greater impact on our lives and comfort than we realize.
A weather station can also save you money and reduce your ecological footprint, for instance allowing you to water your garden correctly by knowing exactly how much rain you’ve had recently. A few of them, like the Ambient Weather WS-1002 WIFI Observer, can even connect to your home automation system.
There’s even a safety factor involved here. To give one example, you may never realize that the humidity in your home is at an unhealthy level until you start smelling mold; this can have serious consequences for your family’s health. Once it’s established, mold is also very expensive to get rid of.
Given that weather all over the world has apparently gone bonkers in the last few years, a weather station might just give you a little advance warning when a huge storm is imminent. Just starting a trip a few hours before you’ll have to drive on ice can potentially save your life. In the same way, hearing an alarm indicating an inch of rain in the last hour can help you take precautions against flooding, or at least check that all of your windows are closed.
Some Meteorological Terms, and What They Mean
Before we can have a meaningful discussion about selecting a particular weather station, we have to be on the same page regarding certain words.
To start with, you should know that a weather station typically consists of two parts: the measuring unit mounted outdoors and the control panel that both serves as a user interface and checks the air indoors. Information is exchanged between them using radio, and the longest distance within which they can communicate is called the transmission range.
The figure given by the manufacturer usually assumes that there’s nothing but clear air between the two. Walls and plants will decrease this considerably, while radio waves can’t travel through soil at all.
Some other words you’ll see used include:
- Barometric pressure (or atmospheric pressure) is an indication of how hard the air is pushing down at some point on the planet’s surface. This decreases with altitude. High pressures are associated with clear, sunny skies, while a drop in barometric pressure can indicate that cloudy, windy weather is on the horizon.
- Relative humidity tells us how fast liquid water tends to evaporate and, conversely, how likely water vapor is to condense and form airborne droplets. If the temperature rises, RH falls.
- The dew point temperature is closely associated with relative humidity. When this is reached, water begins to condense and fog is likely.
- Wind chill is the number in degrees Fahrenheit subtracted from the actual temperature to give a value closer to how cold it actually feels. Strong winds make it seem more chilly, and if humidity is also taken into account, it’s called the heat index temperature.
- Anemometers measure wind velocity. Most of them take the form either of three cups on a spindle, or a propeller along with a windvane that keeps it pointed into the wind.
- Barometers give an indication of atmospheric pressure, or sometimes just how much this has changed recently.
- Relative humidity is tracked by hygrometers.
- A sensor is in calibration when it’s accurate within the range it’s supposed to operate. Some weather station sensors are calibrated at the factory and will usually become less exact over time. Other models have a self-calibration feature, allowing them to give reliable readings for longer.
So, Which Weather Stations Should You Be Looking At?
If you still need to narrow down your choices, a good first step would be to look at the “Sensor Mount Type” column in our features table. If you have limited space, a busybody homeowner association, or just don’t want the hassle of installing a pole, a weather station with a wall-mounted monitoring station will be much more convenient. These are less accurate than the pole-mounted kind, though.
Beyond that, the most important stuff is:
You probably know already for what purpose you’ll use your weather station. Do you just need to know when it’s likely to rain, and when it’s hot enough to allow you to complain about it? A basic model that measures temperature and relative humidity, perhaps with barometric pressure thrown into the mix, is all you need.
If, however, you’re a farmer living close to a mountain or lake, you probably already have some idea of how the wind’s speed and direction affect your local weather. Machines that measure these tend to be more expensive, but will probably be worth it for you.
On the topic of sensors, it’s worth noting that, as long as they’re working correctly, the components in weather stations are almost always going to be more accurate than you need them to be. Manufacturers love to make this a selling point, but it’s basically irrelevant to users.
If, however, you want to gather data for your thesis, the only model we’ve reviewed that’s reliable enough for your purpose is the Kestrel 3500.
Number of Measuring and Monitoring Stations
Running multiple sensors on one display panel could be useful, for instance, if you have a greenhouse or a walk-in freezer you need to keep tabs on. Even in this case, though, it might be more economical to buy multiple systems, each with its own control panel.
Chances are good that you don’t need to monitor indoor and outdoor spaces to the same degree. Indoors, generally, you’ll only be interested in temperature and humidity. Just be aware that using two identical products may cause interference or, in other words, they will be stepping on each other’s transmissions. If you’re contemplating this, check with the manufacturer first.
Remote Access and Data Storage
Some of the products only store the maximum and minimum temperatures of the last 24 hours, others can provide you with more information than you’re ever likely to need. Perhaps if you want to know if frost is likely you’ll want to check how quickly and deeply the temperature falls each night, but for most people, this is a nice-to-have.
A more important issue is whether you can check your weather station and receive alerts on your phone. You may have a second, distant property; you probably don’t want to find out too late that it’s flooding. This is also useful if you have children or elderly people at home during a heat wave. After all, many of us are willing to pay nearly anything for peace of mind.
FACT SHEET & STATISTICS - DID YOU KNOW?
Atmospheric pressure is usually measured in terms of how far it can push mercury up in a tube. The average figure is about 30 inches, so if less-dense water were used instead, a simple barometer would have to be 30 feet tall!
The first attempt at large-scale, scientific weather forecasting was made in Britain. When one Member of Parliament predicted that it would soon be possible to predict London’s weather up to 24 hours in advance, he was laughed at.
On average, 254 people in the United States are killed by weather-related events (many more are injured). On the other hand, as many as 10,000 lives are saved through good preparation and early detection of hurricanes and other dangerous conditions.
The average amount of precipitation (meaning snow, rain, hail, etc.) per year in the United States varies greatly. Nevada is the driest state, while (unsurprisingly) Hawaii receives the greatest amount of rain.
The Weather Underground app compiles atmospheric data from over a quarter of a million internet-enabled, privately-owned household weather stations worldwide. This information is used to create better forecasts and help researchers understand the climate better.