Divining the weather has been around for as long as humans have. No longer do we rely on shamans or superstitions for prediction but hard observations. Modern science can measure many aspects of the weather and give accurate forecasts on how it will behave.
Measuring and predicting the weather isn’t just for the realm of scientists anymore. Residential weather stations come chock full of everything needed for a weather hobbyist. In this guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about these machines, how to use them, and what the best one is for you.
How Weather Stations Work
Weather stations are remarkably important devices that measure atmospheric conditions in the area it is located. The weather itself is a complicated system and the machines that measure them even more so. While it may seem like these devices operate on magic they do anything but. Rather than a single device, it is actually made from multiple smaller tools and sensors, each of which meshes into one another to give a complete picture of the weather.
There are usually two pieces to the typical residential weather station – the sensor and the station itself. The sensor is the piece that is located outside and serves to gather data. This data is then transferred to the station, which is also referred to as the hub. The station’s job is to transform the raw data in a way that you can be better understood. Modern models use digital screens and some sort of online platform to upload data that is incorporated into larger weather models.
Types of Sensors
The primary purpose of a weather station is to measure a given area in multiple different ways. Rather than looking at these sensors as one device, it is best to look at them as multiple tools combined into one implement.
- Thermometer: Temperature is one of the first things people think of when it comes to weather, so having a thermometer built into a weather station kind of goes without saying. More advanced stations will record temperature data and be able to calculate it in different ways – variations over time, averages, along with the difference between inside and outside temperatures. These devices can work either on PTD probes, thermistors, or thermocouples.
- Hygrometer: Humidity can be incredibly important in how we perceive temperature and a station with a hygrometer will be able to calculate the level in the air. There will be many important data points derived from this such as humidity percentage, relative humidity, and absolute humidity.
- Anemometer: There are a few types of anemometers but all of them do the same thing – measure wind speed and direction. This sensor relates data such as the fastest wind speed, average wind speed, and the direction it is coming from.
- Barometer: Large weather systems can influence atmospheric pressure, so being able to calculate it can be important. This is where the barometer steps in and its primary job are that it measures fluctuations in atmospheric pressure for your surrounding area.
- Rain Gauge: The description is in the name for this sensor – this device measures the level of rainfall that your area. Just like others, such as the anemometer and thermometer, the rain gauge can come in a few different forms that ultimately do the same thing.
- Lightning Detector: While the device has been around for some time, it has only recently been incorporated into residential stations. Many of these detectors are built to signal lightning strikes as far as 25 miles away.
Best Home Weather Station Comparison in 2019
|Davis Instruments 6250 Vantage Vue Wireless||$$$$||711|
|Ambient Weather WS-2902A Smart WiFi||$$$||975|
|AcuRite 02081M Atomic Clock Weather Station||$$||2,454|
|AcuRite 01036M Wireless Weather Station||$$$||820|
|La Crosse Technology 308-1414B Wireless Atomic Digital Color||$$||2,159|
|Ambient Weather WS-2801A Advanced Wireless Color Forecast||$$||265|
|Oregon Scientific BAR206A Weather Forecast Station 400||$$||116|
What You Need to Know Before Purchasing
Aside from the sensors themselves, there are a variety of characteristics for weather stations that you should keep in mind when picking one for yourself.
- Home vs Portable: Depending on what you are using your weather station for you are going to want to consider home or portable models. Home or residential variants are usually much larger and are built with more features than there portable cousins and can often be integrated into some sort of smart home system. Portable versions are much simpler and are able to be moved around, making them ideal for hunters, hikers, and campers.
- Power Source: AC power, that is the power used in most household appliances, is the most common energy source for home weather stations. Others operate on a pair of AA batteries, while higher-end models rely on solar panels. Often times many of these systems are integrated into the same station to serve as backup.
- Range of Data: Probably one of the most important points of a weather station is how many sensors and data points it refers to. That being said, you should buy the weather station that only does what you need to – things like atmospheric pressure and dew point might seem neat to know but might not be useful to you. Keep in mind that it isn’t only what a system measures but how that data is constructed. Higher-end models specialize in incorporating data into things like averages and other ways such as heat index and relative temperature.
- Wired vs Wireless: Probably the easiest to understand. Simply put a wired system requires physical connections between the sensor and the station, while the wireless models rely on signals. Wireless is more convenient to use and install and use; these systems have become much more reliable over the years.
- Smart Features: Many newer weather stations can become integrated into home systems like Google Assistant and Alexa. Many other stations can put data it harvests onto the internet, allowing users to interact with some sort of dashboard online via their computer, tablet, or smartphone.
Top 7 Best Home Weather Station Reviews in 2019
There are plenty of weather stations out on the market today and it can be a little bit overwhelming, to say the least. To help you with this here is a list of some of the better weather station you can find. This list is organized by price point – with the most professional model first and going down from there.
1. Davis Instruments 6250 Vantage Vue Wireless Weather Station Review
One of the most advanced and accurate weather stations. This self-contained monitoring system measures a wide range of variables – the basics like temperature, wind speed, and so forth are here of course; with additional parameters like dew point and barometric pressure incorporated as well. The sensor itself updates ultra-fast to the hub – once every 2.5 seconds, along with having a maximum transmission of 1000 feet.
To say this machine has a lot of features and data points is an understatement. Users will be able to compare weather trends day to day, data related to astronomical phenomenon like meteor showers, and updated variables every 5 seconds. There are also multiple power sources – solar, rechargeable capacitor, and lithium-ion battery.
All of this and the device is pretty straightforward to set up too.
Needless to say, this machine has plenty of features. You get more than what you pay for too as this Davis Instrument product has been tested under severe corrosion tests akin to extreme weather or marine environments. While this professional grade product will work in just about any environment, it is the best for rough areas in the far North or South.
2. Ambient Weather WS-2902A Smart WiFi Weather Station Review
A professional level weather station that has all the information readily available on a bright LCD color screen. Each point of data is simply divided and color coded making it easy to read. The sensors are able to calculate the effects of temperature, wind direction, wind speed, rainfall, atmospheric pressure, and more. The console itself has dual levels of connectivity – the sensor uses RF (915 Mhz) while the console connects directly to your router (2.4 GHz).
When connected online the WS-2902A weather station can send real-time data to the Ambient Weather website. On the website, you’ll be able to use the dashboard via the computer or smart device. For those that want more, there are a variety of dials, gauges, and graphs that can be downloaded and analyzed at their leisure. This machine can be incorporated through Alexa and other devices along with supporting email and text alerts.
This device has a good balance of professional quality and price point, making it best for those that want all the data on hand without spending an arm and leg on it. A temperature range from -40 F to 149 F means this machine works well even if you are in extreme environments. The station operates on batteries and offers rapid-fire reporting to Weather Underground a few times a minute, making the data always accurate.
3. AcuRite 02081M Wireless Weather Station with Atomic Clock Review
This machine is one of the easiest to set up and understand. Coming in both a monochrome and color display varieties, this device has a small AC adapter to stay powered. The clock is updated via the US atomic clock, ensuring accuracy all the time and even changing automatically during daylight savings time. The weather forecasting ranges from 12 to 24 hours and tells things such as temperature, wind direction, and a chance of rain.
The remote can be hung up via a nail or string and updates the main hub once every 16 seconds. The range can go as far as 330 feet not counting any obstructions. Most impressively is the self-calibrating forecast technology – this system measures atmospheric pressure and temperature over a fortnight period. This measurement allows it to know when there are drops in barometric pressure which is often a sign of changing weather patterns.
This is an extremely simplistic machine and can actually work well in the bedroom as it has no backlight to keep you up. Keep in mind that this requires an AC adapter to work correctly, with the backup batteries only there to save the data collected. While it doesn’t have many of the bells and whistles as some higher-end models it does do the basic things such as temperature readings and forecasting really well, making it a good choice as a nightstand alarm clock.
4. AcuRite 01036M 5-in-1 Weather Sensor Wireless Weather Station Review
This station comes with 5 separate sensors measuring everything from rainfall, wind speed, humidity, and much more. The hub for which you read all the data is shown on a bright LED screen with a built-in stand, allowing it to be set anywhere you need it – such as a kitchen, living room, or a nightstand. There are also multiple programmable alarms that can be sent via text or email on all the parameters.
This device can connect directly to the PC via USB – this feature allows the 01036M station to go online and allow the use of the AcuRite Dashboard. Once connected you’ll be able to access all weather information via a smart device, along with outlining 5-day weather forecasts. The system gets rapid fire updates anywhere from 18 to 36 seconds from Weather Underground.
This is a mid-level weather station good for those that want something a step higher than the cheaper models. In order to fully take advantage of this system’s features, you’ll need to connect directly to the computer, as it is incapable of connecting to the internet directly. The sensor is capable of broadcasting information to the hub approximately 100 feet away. This same sensor also has a couple of mounting options that make it viable in multiple locations.
5. La Crosse Technology 308-1414B Wireless Atomic Digital Color Forecast Station Review
This La Crosse device has a nice balance of affordability mixed with a few special features. First of all, the LCD color screen is beautiful to look at and shows everything you need to know in easy to read columns – from left to right it has outdoor temperature and humidity; weather patterns and time; along with indoor temperature and humidity. The sensor is capable of accurately measuring temperatures ranging from -40 F upwards of 140 F.
The intelligent weather forecasting calibrates with your area to give accurate predictions. Adjusting for your areas humidity, temperature, and atmospheric pressure over the course of 3 to 4 weeks gives it the ability to look out for things like changes in barometric pressure. The clock itself automatically updates as well, so it’ll always be accurate.
For those that aren’t worried about online capabilities or don’t need it, then this is actually one of the better weather stations on the market today. The humidity range is pretty expansive, making this machine best for everything from oceanic to more temperate climates. It has the ability to be mounted to a wall but also has a base stand so it can be placed on the table. Considered one of the best all-around models.
6. Ambient Weather WS-2801A Advanced Wireless Color Forecast Station Review
A smaller model for those that still want an Ambient Weather product. This station comes with the typical LCD color screen that is divided into seven divisions – labeling data points such as air pressure, temperature, and humidity. This machine has a clock that is sync with the national atomic clock via radio to ensure perfect accuracy. The remote sensors work up to 300 feet if there is a direct line of sight or 100 feet under most conditions.
Ambient Weather proclaims that this weather station can give upcoming weather forecasts upwards of 48 hours with reasonable accuracy. The station itself operates on both AC power and batteries, with the batteries used as backup power. This model can use up to three sensors – the station scroll mode gets updates from each one every five seconds. Alarms can be set for each measured parameter.
Overall this weather station is a simplified version of more professional models, making it a solid choice for those that don’t need all the extraneous data. While each model is set within a certain margin of error, you have the ability to manually calibrate both the temperature and humidity settings. This calibration mixed with multiple sensor capabilities makes this machine a great one for people that just want accurate forecasting without any of the hassles.
7. Oregon Scientific BAR206A Weather Forecast Station 400 Review
This small little device is remarkably uncomplicated – measuring basics of the climate like temperature, humidity, and giving a basic forecast. The sensor itself is simple alcohol based one that can seemingly measure temperature fluctuations as low as -40 F to 100 F. The bottom of the hub portion has an atomic clock and day of the week indicator.
The middle button on the lower part of this device is a light that can be activated with a simple press. Coming in three colors – black, silver, and white, it is the silver model that can also come with color LED screen albeit for slightly more money. A single sensor comes with it but an additional 3 more can be attached for multiple zones of coverage.
The monochrome versions are good for those that don’t want anything fancy, while the color screen model is slightly more but looks much nicer. Being able to connect multiple sensors is nice too as it provides a more complete and accurate picture of your area – all of which have wireless coverage upwards of 300 feet. This machine is a great bang for the buck; making it one of the best ones for beginners.
Frequently Asked Questions
You might have a few questions when it comes to these devices and that’s normal. Here we will go over a few of the more common ones.
Where should I place the sensor?
Probably the most important part of installing your weather station is the location of the sensor. Needless to say, having a sensor that is sandwiched between a pair of buildings or next to a tree can mess with some of its data collection related to wind. Ideally, you’re going to want your sensor located a decent distance from anything tall.
The thermometer portion of the sensor is important to – make sure that this specific part is kept in shade in a well-ventilated area. Heat can accumulate on rooftops and paved surfaces, so it’s best to stay away from these areas. Radiation shielding can often be bought separately allowing your sensor to be placed in direct sunlight.
The shielding is really key here as it opens up a wide range from where you can put your sensor – most areas from down on the ground to upwards of the chimney and everything in between.
How do different thermometers work?
All thermometers primary job is to merely take the surrounding atmosphere and put the temperature into an understandable format. In weather stations, they are often in both the outside sensor and inside the station itself so users can compare the differences. There are roughly three types of thermometers commonly in use:
- Thermocouples: One of the oldest and still widely used type of thermometers on the account of being inexpensive and being completely self-powered. Powered by joining two different metals and measuring the voltage based on the reference temperature, this thermometer uses one of the fundamental forces of the universe, that of electromagnetism, to function.
- Thermistors: Also called a “resistance thermometer”, this tool uses a resistor to measure the temperature. Depending on the type of thermistor resistance in the resistor may increase or decrease. Regardless, this thermometer is one of the most accurate but doesn’t work well in temperature extremes – making it ideal for more tropical climates.
- PTD probes: Think of this as a combination of the above two. Instead of two metals like the thermocouple, there is only one, usually, platinum and a temperature increase marks an increase of electrical resistance in the material.
What’s the difference between anemometers?
All an anemometer needs to do is measure both wind direction and speed. Like a thermometer, there are three types of anemometers that are commonly used.
- Propeller: The most picturesque type of anemometer as it looks like a sideways pinwheel that spins around. Usually, this comes with some sort of wind vane that pushes it around, allowing it to measure both wind speed and direction. The frequency of rotation and the direction that it is pointed will be measured and then sent to the hub.
- Sonic: The most high-tech of the anemometers and while rarely found on residential weather stations can still be found from time to time. An antenna like protrusion goes up into the air with a set of tendril-like fingers on each end. Between each set of “fingers” an ultrasonic wave passes back and forth. The wind that passes through the empty space upsets these ultrasonic waves, the difference being the wind speed and direction.
- Cup: Probably the simplest and most common type of anemometer. Working similar to a propeller variant, this tool spins around with a wind vane toward the direction of the wind and spins. The angle and voltage derived from the spinning are then transferred to a readable format.
What is Weather Underground?
The idea behind Weather Underground is simple enough – to allow everyone on the planet access to good weather information. A unique blend of expert meteorologists and a community of personal weather stations give the website a unique edge over other weather providers.
In order to ensure accuracy only certain residential weather stations are included in their calculations. Despite being so stringent Weather Underground boasts that they have 250,000 members sending them constant real-time data. A device that can connect directly to and get updates from this provider is ensured to be of singular quality.
What are some accessories that go with my weather station?
There are many accessories that can be used in conjunction with your weather station. Most manufacturers have a list of replaceable parts such as AC adapters, wind vanes, or mounting brackets. Radiation shielding can be used to block out sunlight so as to not disturb temperature readings. Most modern lower-end models work in conjunction with multiple sensor points along with other add-ons like soil, humidity, and liquid sensors.
Higher-end weather stations, on the other hand, have additional accessories like tripods and software. Other additional sensors can be bought to replace your old sensors or work in conjunction with them, feeding even more data to your hub. Programs that can be purchased are variable and can be anything from interfaces, alert modules, and other management software.
Limitations of Weather Forecasting and Stations
Many of the weather stations in this guide usually have some limitations based on how far out they can forecast weather. Even professional setups at meteorological stations are limited up to a certain point. The primary problem isn’t enough data collection but rather formulating the data in such a way to properly predict the future – even the smallest variable can have massive repercussions in a short amount of time.
Chaos theory is a branch of mathematics that studies the behavior of dynamic systems, the weather is one such system. Popular notions of how chaos theory operate are seen with the Butterfly Effect – this states that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on one side of the planet can create a bad storm on the other. This means that farther out a forecast is the more likely it is to be inaccurate.
This doesn’t mean that weather stations and forecasting are without merit – quite the opposite actually. Observations can still be had but relying on these systems too much can create awkward miscalculations. That’s why it is important to understand and look at how weather systems and phenomena function.
Observing Weather Phenomena
To fully take advantage of your weather station and overcome its limitations you’re going to need to understand a few things on how weather phenomena are observed, how it is measured, and what to look out for.
Climate and Temperature
There are roughly twelve different climate zones, each with their own set of idiosyncrasies. In the continental United States there are temperate, arid, semi-arid, oceanic, continental, and mountain. Knowing which climate zone you are in will give you hand on what you need to look into when it comes to a weather station for you.
The extent of the differences between these climate zones is beyond the scope of this buying guide, but you should know is that these areas vary greatly in temperature, season length, rainfall, and so forth. An arid area has little to no rainfall making a good hygrometer fairly useless – yet an oceanic zone will find this highly useful.
The atmosphere is in constant flux – this is what causes most weather phenomena. Prediction is difficult but still possible within a certain margin of error. Atmospheric instability is when complicated weather prediction becomes even more difficult. Instability marks a large exchange of air vertically, resulting in variable weather patterns.
One such way this form is through a large pocket of warm air rising into higher up colder air, causing a massive swirling of air currents. This convective instability often results in storms if there is enough humidity in the air – that is how areas of warm water often have more storms.
Even dry areas can have weather problems from atmospheric instability, creating small scale dust devils that can fling dirt around. An intense enough wildfire can create something called a fire whirl which can cause the fire to spread even more.
A weather station that is able to calibrate based on your environment will be able to signal these atmospheric stabilities faster than those that can’t. Measurements of atmospheric pressure can only go so far though, and sometimes just looking outside your window can give a better picture then what all the raw data says.
Fog, Sand-Storms, and Smog
While similar in how they obscure vision, fog, sand storms, and smog have many different principles for which they operate and form. Fog, for instance, can be considered a type of low-lying cloud and is composed of small water droplets. These form when there is a sufficient temperature difference between the air and the dew point. Varying conditions can create different types of fog such as advection, steam, or freezing.
Sand storms are also called dust storms and form in desert regions when there is a sufficient enough wind to whip up the sand into the air. These storms can get up to 130 feet or more. Smog, on the other hand, is a form of artificial fog that results from heavy industrial pollution and tepid air conditions. Usually found in low lying cities, smog that gets thick enough can lead to the death of some people.
Home weather stations, unless sufficiently advanced, won’t be able to measure this type of weather accurately or predictably. It’s good to know what your area is more prone to and during what time of the year.
Thunder and Lightning
Given the right conditions, lightning can strike just about anywhere but often are found around tropical and subtropical regions. The reason for this is simple, as lightning and its byproduct thunder flourish in large storms, specifically those made from cumulonimbus clouds. Differences in temperature in the clouds create pockets of negatively and positively charged particles, turning the cloud into a giant battery.
Lightning detectors are only now starting to become part of weather stations. They are able to detect these differences in charged particles between the bottom of the cloud and the ground – it’s in these circumstances that lightning is most likely to strike. Because lightning heats up the air so fast – around 54,000 F in less than a second – it results in the air expanding and creating a shock wave in the form of thunder.
The Beaufort Scale
Also called the Beaufort wind force scale, this measurement is used to have a basis for which to relate wind speed with observed conditions. Before the creation of this scale wind conditions was largely subjective – it was Francis Beaufort who standardizing these experiences on empirical data. Originally used in comparison to the frigate, then the most common of the Royal Navy’s ships, it has been modified since then to reflect the times.
Measured on a 0 to 12 scale, with 0 representing calm and 12 representing hurricane force winds, this system is either measured in knots, meters, or miles depending on measurement system used. While just about all residential weather stations incorporate wind speed into their measurements, not many give a relative understanding to us. The Beaufort scale can be used to properly understand how the outside wind speed will affect you and your home.
The Safir-Simpson Scale
When wind speeds get too powerful that even the Beaufort scale won’t be able to fully reflect it, and that’s where the Safir-Simpson scale jumps into the picture. Developed in 1971 by Herbert Saffir and Robert Simpson, this scale jumps from 1 to 5, with higher the number associated with a more powerful hurricane. Based on the average top speed over one minute, the scale starts at 74 mph and goes upwards to 157 or more.
Needless to say, such instances are considered highly dangerous and variable. More than likely a weather station that isn’t of quality construction or installed correctly can be damaged or blown away. In addition, but because of the odd quality of how hurricanes and cyclones operate (unusual wind patterns, little relative rain, storm surge, etc.) a weather station might not be able to properly signal the dangerousness of one of these approaching storms.
This isn’t just finding funny shapes in the clouds, but observing certain patterns in the clouds and predicting what the weather is going to do based on that. This is of course not a foolproof method but can be surprisingly accurate once you know what to look out for.
- Cirrus: These white wispy clouds stretch across the sky and usually indicate fair weather – a fast movement of these and the direction they are pointed can show what direction a weather front is moving through.
- Cirrostratus: These are sheet clouds that cover the entirety of the sky, usually mark the presence of rain or snow in the next 24 hours.
- Cirrocumulus: These clouds are actually large groups of streaks that seem to be well organized. In most climates these mean there will be nice weather; however, during the hurricane season for tropical climates this may mean an approaching storm
- Altostratus: These grey and blue clouds can cover the whole sky and are usually indicative of a storm approaching soon.
- Altocumulus: Large fluffy sheets that are white and gray, completely eclipse the sun. If seen in the morning it usually means there will be a thunderstorm in the afternoon.
- Stratus: Low-lying clouds that look like fog in the sky, often results in a small bit of rain or snow.
- Stratocumulus: Extremely lumpy and low lying grey clouds that look similar to mountains, don’t usually bring any precipitation.
- Nimbostratus: The quintessential rain cloud – looks like a large dark gray sheet stretched across the sky.
- Cumulus: Sometimes referred to as cotton ball clouds on the account of them looking like cotton. If they are laying low that usually means good weather if they start to grow upward though it might be indicative of a large storm.
- Cumulonimbus: Super-charged cumulus clouds that have a distinct anvil shape. Known for bringing powerful wind, rain, and lightning. These clouds are considered highly dangerous.
Measuring and predicting the weather is the hobby of many people, but even if you aren’t passionate about the subject you can benefit from getting a weather station. Overall these machines take a large range of measurements and translate it in a way you can best understand it.
In order to use these machines to their full potential make sure you are familiar with how weather phenomena operate. Picking the best weather station for you is a matter of getting one that fits your climate and what you want to get out of it.