When people hear the word “weather station” it conjures different pictures in different minds. When you’re doing research about weather stations sometimes it’s a little hard to tell what people mean in their descriptions.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
If your only idea of a weather station is tuning in KOLD on the TV, we have a ways to go…
So let’s dive in and break the ‘weather station’ picture down into specific categories.
- Home weather stations, otherwise known as Personal weather stations
- Professional weather stations
- Specialty weather stations
- Educational weather stations for kids
- What professional meteorologists use for forecasting
So what is the best type of weather station for you?
Home weather stations and personal weather stations
This is the category most people are thinking of when they hear the term ‘weather station’. It is also the broadest category with a bazillion companies marketing home weather stations consisting of a simple temperature/ humidity sensor all the way to multi-thousand dollar units that will please the most diehard weather nut.
At the low end of the price scale, you have the simple stand-alone temperature and humidity sensor. The analog type that usually looks like a round clock face with hands that point to the temperature and humidity numbers. These are made to be easy to read. Most common is the digital indoor weather station type that you can place on a counter or mount on the wall in any room you want.
Digital home weather stations
The electronics on these thermo-hygrometers is also capable of not only displaying temperature and humidity, but often the time or the date. Quite a few of these have a barometer built in which gives them the capability of simple forecasting.
Next up is the multi-sensor wireless indoor outdoor weather station. By placing the additional thermo hygrometer outside in the shade, you’ll get the outdoor temperature and humidity displayed along with your indoor measurements. Here is a page describing this kind of weather station.
Cabled or wired versions of these indoor-outdoor weather stations are available, but they are more difficult to install.
Top of the line home weather stations in this class includes large color displays and wind speed.
The step up in this type of home weather system is a big one! These weather stations have a greatly expanded range of sensors with 5 to 7 different weather measurements sent to an indoor display. Most of the measurements that you would consider a complete weather report is possible with these units. This, I think, is where most people get tripped up due to all of the choices.
- Indoor and outdoor temperature
- Indoor and outdoor humidity
- Barometric pressure, also known as atmospheric pressure
- Wind speed
- Wind direction
- And rainfall
- With this data, forecasts can be calculated along with dew point, wind chill, etc.
The best home weather stations can also measure:
- UV, ultraviolet light is an important measurement for some
- Solar radiation energy, this can be useful to people with solar power
- Some even allow you to add a camera
Other choices include:
- Wireless weather station or wired to the indoor display
- To connect to your computer or not.
- Connect to the internet or not.
- If you do connect your home weather station to the internet, how do you want to do it, through your computer, or connect with your router?
Smart weather stations
Some Smart weather stations are able to understand your voice commands and respond with the requested info. A couple of new home weather stations now use Alexa for example.
This type of weather station is, in some cases, capable of using IFTTT technology and trigger remote actions when certain weather parameters are met.
Another interesting direction being taken by these new home weather stations is actually measuring the different aspects of the indoor environment. For instance, you can measure noise levels, CO2, airborne dust, etc.
I think this type of weather equipment is a most interesting development and is worth keeping an eye on. Pretty soon all of the best home weather stations will be adopting this new technology. After all, isn’t the environment that you spend most of your time living in worth monitoring?
Analog home weather stations
This type is often a wooden weather station with dials that is mounted on a wall. Some are small enough to fit on a desk. Many models are made to look like vintage weather stations but contain modern technology. Analog weather stations are not only functional but often beautiful or eye-catching. These are almost always made with decorative goals.
The most interesting gauge is the analog barometer. To make this type of analog barometer useful for forecasting, a bit of drag is built into the dial so when the glass front is tapped the drag is momentarily eliminated. The barometer is then free to show the current pressure. By watching which way and how far the dial needle moves after you tap it, a forecast can be made.
Some analog weather stations resemble a fine timepiece with all of the dials in one face. There is a large variation in designs; something for everyone.
Also included in the analog weather station class are authentic looking replicas of 18th-century antique weather stations. These operate on rising and falling fluid levels due to temperature or pressure.
A very popular example of some old-fashioned weather equipment being made new again is the Galileo Thermometer. This is another fluid based weather instrument where the change in density of a fluid due to changes in temperature cause objects inside to rise and fall. Modern Galileo thermometers use interesting objects inside. Fun stuff!
Another curiosity is the storm glass forecaster, a device from the 1700’s that was originally sold as a weather predictor. Actually, it’s a form of thermometer that has a chemical that undergoes interesting crystallization changes with temperature variations. Not very useful, but interesting and decorative.
Professional Weather Stations
This popular type of weather station is built with reliability, durability, and accuracy in mind. Professional weather stations must meet international meteorological standards and also pass the accuracy requirements of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Quality professional weather stations start with the very best home weather stations and go up to including multi-station networks of special weather equipment and sometimes using repeaters to relay the weather information over long distances.
The data collected by this type of weather station is the same as the top home weather stations but will include whatever special requirements demanded by the end user. Area temperature, humidity, light, dust, or wetness, for example. Farmers will want to know how effective their irrigation coverage is and how fast the water is evaporating. Airport managers and pilots need to know the conditions for safety concerns.
Who uses professional weather stations
- Serious weather enthusiasts
- Industrial and commercial businesses
- Government agencies
- Fire departments
- Event planners
- Insurance companies
- Or anybody with a need for real-time accurate weather information.
Specialty weather stations:
Portable Weather Stations
Portable weather stations range from handheld units that report wind speed and temperature only, all the way up to suitcase types that include everything you would find in a pro weather station plus any specialized sensors needed, for example, nuclear radiation detectors. Yikes!
The handheld weather stations are used by:
- HVAC experts to measure airflow and temperature.
- By hunters and shooters, some units include a ballistics calculator.
- Hikers and campers will find the high-end features like an altimeter valuable.
- These are valuable at auto racing events for keeping engines and tires adjusted to barometric pressure and temperature.
- Sailors and boaters have lots of uses for these.
Handheld weather meters are about the size of a mobile phone and must be held up and pointed into the wind. Some have wind vane attachments available. The only thing they can’t do is measure rainfall, but I’m sure someone is thinking about it…
Your smartphone can be a portable weather station of sorts; just plug in a portable anemometer, or maybe a thermometer. A lot of phones already have a barometer built in.
Another type of portable weather station is a key fob sized data logger that uses Bluetooth to connect to your mobile device. This has everything except for wind and rain.
Agricultural Weather Stations
Agricultural type weather stations are professional weather stations with some additional sensors and networking.
Soil temperature, wetness, and exposure to the Sun are all important to farmers, as are measurements of leaf wetness and water temperature. Farmers also need a weather station that can alert them to conditions like frost or flooding.
The best agricultural weather stations have networking capabilities allowing for remote sensors to send data to the main weather station, and from there relay the weather information to an indoor display and computer.
Remote Weather Stations
Remote weather stations refer to stations installed in places too far away or sometimes too difficult reach within a reasonable time. Many farms and ranches fall into this category.
These remote stations usually depend on solar power and cell service for communications. Mountaintops and mountain roads are often monitored this way by official weather services and by departments of transportation.
While not requiring the same tough weather equipment, many people keep an eye on their cabins and beach houses
Marine Weather Stations
Anything around salt water has a problem with corrosion. Marine weather stations have to be corrosion resistant and very well sealed. This applies to stations on the water and on the shore. Some weather station manufacturers suggest staying at least 1/4 mile away from the beach.
Marine quality weather stations tend to be expensive. Many are also quite beautiful weather instruments.
In extreme weather situations like hurricanes or storm chaser situations, the top end professional weather stations will probably suffice. That is, of course, as long as the weather equipment is securely installed. Problems come up in measuring extreme rainfall, extremely low temperatures, and very high 200mph+ winds.
For high winds a pitot tube is used; this is what is used on aircraft for wind speed reading.
To measure very low temperatures, for instance in Antarctica, an alcohol thermometer is used. Mercury thermometers do not work below -35°F but an alcohol thermometer will register to -94°F.
The lowest temperature on earth was measured in Antarctica at -128.6°F. I suspect a thermocouple type of thermometer was used. Thermocouple thermometers can register down to around -458°F. I hope you never need one!
As for rainfall, a large size collection gauge can be used to measure accumulation, but to measure high rates of fall a weighing bucket or better yet, a natural siphon or float type of rain gauge is used.
Educational Weather Stations for Kids
Weather stations for kids are available in simple operating stations appropriate for preschool ages, and all the way up to sophisticated weather stations that are educational to big kids like me. These kids weather stations come with documentation and worksheets that are tailored to different ages.
When I was in grade school, I made my own weather tools. This option is still available, of course, and is recommended.
Types of Weather Equipment used by Professional Meteorologists
Meteorologists use not only top of the line professional weather stations, but specialized equipment like:
- Radiosondes, self-contained mini weather stations that are launched by weather balloons or dropped by aircraft. Radiosondes transmit their data to ground-based receivers.
- Transmissometers or hazemeters are used to measure clarity or visual range through the air.
- Disdrometers, these can measure size, speed, and distribution of falling precipitation particles be they raindrops, snowflakes, hail, or graupel.
- Radar and Lidar are used to detect atmospheric conditions at a distance.
There are so many more special weather instruments used by meteorologists that listing them here would make this page a book.
Meteorologists also have data from official weather stations, home weather stations, satellites, ocean buoys and ships, and aircraft. With this data computerized, real-time maps and imagery are possible.
As you can see, this is more of a type weather monitoring system rather than a type of weather station.
Meteorologists have lots of fun stuff to use, but their brain, through training, and experience is their best piece of weather equipment.
Well there you have it; a quick run through some of the different types of weather stations used around the world today.
Home weather stations can now be printed with the new revolutionary 3D printing techniques as shown here. 3D printed weather stations! Amazing, isn’t it?
This is an evolving field and new weather instruments are being dreamed up all the time. There are aspects of our environment that are relatively under-studied; for instance, the electrical nature of the Earth and it’s space-weather conditions.
Do you have some ideas for new weather tools?
Go for it!
Here’s a page about the top home weather stations.