Next time the neighbor’s on the rooftop consider this: he may be installing a webcam, thermometer or portable wind-speed device to build a weather station that can give the Weather Channel a run for its money.
There’s nothing worse than planning a huge family picnic only to be drowned out by high winds and punishing rain.
Sure, people can turn on the news, check a weather app, or do a quick online search to find out the local weather. For many, however, that’s not nearly enough: They want to know the weather in their exact location—whether for forecasting, gardening or just for fun.
That’s why personal, DIY weather stations are more popular than ever.
“Manufactured backyard weather stations are a relatively new phenomenon, and they are easy to operate, affordable, and ubiquitous these days,” explained Curtis Marshall, Ph.D., the national mesonet program manager for the National Weather Service.
“You can buy these products off a shelf, and upload your weather observations onto websites, free of charge, and share the information with people around the world,” he said.
DIY weather stations have come a long way. Just a few decades ago, budding meteorologists had to scrape together parts from household items–such as using a coffee can as a rain gauge–and buy additional materials from a hardware store.
Today, people can purchase complete weather stations that measure basic elements of weather (temperature, barometric pressure, relative humidity, rainfall and wind speed and direction) for anywhere from $150 to more than $1,000.
Some advanced systems also measure soil temperature and moisture, solar radiation, leaf wetness and other more specific aspects of the weather.
Technology also helped change how personal weather station data can be shared: Arduino Boards are open-source devices that sense the environment by receiving inputs from various sensors. Raspberry Pi is a credit card-sized computer that can connect to the internet and upload and share regional data to Weather Underground or similar commercial weather services.
“Before these devices, weather sensors had to be connected to a data logger, which would then need to be connected to a computer to push the data to the internet,” said Kari Strenfel, a meteorologist for Weather Underground. “For people interested in do-it-yourself weather stations, Arduino and Raspberry Pi make it easier than ever to share data.”
Weather Underground, for instance, has an enormous international weather station network where people report data from backyard or house-top weather stations.
“With the latest in technological advances, you can take your weather data to the next level,” said Strenfel. “Small wearables—or small weather monitors you can take with you anywhere—are the newest rage along with anemometers for your smartphone so you can measure the wind speed wherever you go.”
Here’s a look at some of the newest home-weather tech:
Webcams: Up Close and Personal
Weather enthusiasts can now attach a webcam, such BloomSky, to their station. Dubbed “the world’s first smart weather camera,” the device is actually a combo weather station and HD sky camera with wi-fi and apps for both Android and iOS.
“Monitoring the weather via a webcam gives people an image associated with the weather,” said Strenfel. “It also gives them the ability to see weather conditions remotely. Before a long drive in the winter, for instance, a person can check the webcams for snow cover on the roads along with checking weather conditions.”
After mounting the device and angling it toward the sky, BloomSky snaps a photo and notifies the user any time there’s a change in the humidity or temperature. The device then correlates each image with weather data, allowing users to observe the weather at home from wherever they are.
Since all the information is sent to the cloud, wannabe meteorologists can share it with other BloomSky users around the world. An added bonus: At the end of every day, the camera sends a time lapse of the person’s sky.
“You get some pretty amazing weather images with the HD camera,” said Strenfel.
Tiny Tech: Hyper-Local Readings
Thermodo is a mini-weather station that plugs into a mobile device giving a user access to hyper-local temperature readings.
Stand in the kitchen and find out how much warmer it is after baking cookies. Step into the garage and see exactly how much chillier it is when taking out the garbage.
“These devices are also great for a quick temperature reading when you are on the go—maybe on a hike or at your child’s soccer game,” said Strenfel.
Available in black ($30) and anodized aluminum ($45), the device includes free Android and IOS companion apps.
Easy Breezy Wind Measurements
Weather enthusiasts aren’t the only ones interested in precise wind-speed readings; plenty of windsurfers, sailors, kite surfers, paragliders, scientists, golfers, drone flyers, farmers, hikers and bikers are, too.
New tech is making it easier to get precise readings on the go.
European company Vaavud recently introduced a pair of small, rugged wind meters that plug into a smartphone headphone jack and connect to an app that delivers precise wind measurements.
The Mjolnir ($40) captures wind speed using two rotating cups as well as internal magnets that, in turn, communicate with the user’s device. The Slepnir ($60) uses two curved blades to determine both wind speed and direction, while its internal optic sensor records 44,100 measurements per second.
Using the app, users can access average, actual and maximum wind measurements in their exact locations. They can also log and keep track of their own measurements and view others’ measurements to determine exactly what type of winds are heading their way.