Adding an Inexpensive Weather Station to your Shack
Most hams are interested in weather at some level or another. With today’s internet services, very detailed information about the weather in your area is often just a click away. However, depending on your location you may not be able to get information that is close to you. Wouldn’t it be nice to get information about whats going on in your own backyard? You can check the rainfall or the wind speeds right at your backdoor. Set alarms that will notify you that the winds are increasing and it is time to go crank down the antenna. You can even share this information with other hams via APRS or your neighbors using such services as Weather Underground. All you have to do is add an inexpensive weather station to your shack.
What prompted this article was that the seven year old Oregon Scientific WMR100 finally bit the dust due to water leaking into the battery compartment. The WMR100 was a fairly inexpensive unit that provided pretty decent weather info for 7 years, so I couldn’t complain. I decided to see what was available as a cheap replacement. My research showed most of the same players were providing inexpensive units that could send weather data to a computer. The commonly available under $200 units that come with indoor temp and humidity, external sensors for rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, outdoor temp and humidity, and barometric pressure are still available from Ambient, Lacrosse, Oregon Scientific, and a new player Accurite. Of course if you are looking for top quality then the Davis Vue series may be the answer, but be prepared to pay about $500 for a unit with a PC interface. Accurite sells a system that has an all in one sensor package like the Davis Vue at a fraction of the price. However, Accurite as not gained as much 3rd party software support since the system is relatively new.
The system that I finally decided to go with was the Fine Offset 1080 sold as the Dr. Tech 1080PC. This weather station is sold under several other brand names such as Ambient and Dr. Tech. These stations seem to have the reputation of being fairly reliable and accurate for the money. Now here is the interesting part. The 1080 series of stations price can vary greatly depending on the brand name stamped on it. Some branded models go for around $130-$140. However some vendors sell this station under the Dr. Tech brand name for $79 shipped (see links at the end of this article). The 1080 comes with a decent weather instrument package and a pretty good touch screen indoor display with a USB interface.
Dr. Tech vs the WMR100
I thought I would do a quick comparison of my old WMR100 vs the new Dr. Tech 1080PC. It interesting that home weather technology has not changed a whole lot over the last seven years. Both systems uses wireless radios for the sensors.
Build Quality – This one definitely goes to the WMR100. The plastics used by the Oregon Scientific unit definitely appears to be much sturdier. The Dr. Tech instruments are very light weight and cabled together with a telephone like cable. I suspect neither instrument would not survive a major wind storm. The WMR100 also has a very compact footprint with its monitor and sensor package, making it easy to mount.
Display – Dr. Tech wins here with its larger touchscreen display that shows several weather parameters at once. The WMR100 has a very compact display unit and and doesn’t show quite as much data at once. The touchscreen of the Dr. Tech unit makes it easier to quickly access station data such as highs, lows, records, etc.
Accuracy – I would have to say that the Dr. Tech is a bit more sensitive than the WMR100. The anemometer that comes with the Dr. Tech unit measures the slightest breeze where the WMR100 took about 1-2mph winds to respond. The WMR100 humidity always a read a bit higher, but that could have been due to some water intrusion over the years. The Dr. Tech unit measurements are usually very close to the local airport weather and other personal weather stations in the area.
Battery Life – Can’t really say yet. The Dr. Tech unit only uses 5 AA batteries, where the WMR100 uses 10 AA batteries. I only had to replace the batteries twice in the WMR100 over its 7 year life span.
Clock – Just an interesting note. Both units have an internal clock/calendar set by a time source radio signal. The WMR100 had the clock receiver built in to the base unit and would rarely set the clock at my location. The Dr. Tech unit houses the clock radio in the outside mounted sensor which works much better.
PC Interface – Even. Both units have an USB interface and are supported by several 3rd party programs.
Expandability – The WMR100 has the upper hand here. Since you can add additional sensors such as solar and remote temperature sensors. The Dr. Tech unit, appears to only allow it to work with the sensors provided.
Overall for $79 shipped the Dr. Tech 1080PC is hard to beat for an inexpensive weather station.
If you are interested in using a computer to log your weather data, analyze weather data, publish data to Weather Underground, APRS, or to a personal website, I would suggest you look at either Weather Display (approx. $70) or Cumulus (Free). Weather Display is a very powerful program with lots of bells and whistles. Cumulus is a very easy to setup program that also offers a lot of nice features. Ham Radio Science is using the web publishing feature of Cumulus for the Weather tab on this site. The Ham Radio Science weather site is also using the Weather Blues custom template and the Steel Series Gauges plugin. More information on how to set these up can be found at the Cumulus Forums with a little searching. However, if you simply use the basic template provided with Cumulus on your web hosting site and have a little knowledge of FTP, it is very easy to get going. Both programs allow uploading data to Weather Underground, APRS, and other sites. Both programs are very light on computer resources. If you run your shack computer 24/7, these programs can run in the background with very little impact on your system. Also, if you have an older computer that you are not using, drag it out and use it as a weather server. Another consideration for a weather server is one of the older Atom based netbooks (in use at Ham Radio Science station), or one of the current Atom or Celeron based barebones computer kits. Who knows maybe someone can get a linux version weather program going on the soon to be released $25 – $35 Raspberry Pie computer!
Links to Amazon vendors for the $79 Dr. Tech Station