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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

My weather station

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

I had a lot less gray hair when I installed my weather station 12 years ago.

I’ve mentioned the weather station I have in my backyard in passing on this site and on several podcasts I do, but I realize that I’ve never presented the details here. In the May issue of the Six Colors Magazine—one of the benefits of supporting this site—I did write about it a little.

I installed it in August of 2004 for a story I wrote for Macworld and it’s been running ever since. (I have to clean it periodically—the spiders love webbing down the rain collector cup so it can’t move—and I had to replace the rechargeable backup battery once, but it has been a remarkably resilient piece of tech to have survived 12 years outdoors, admittedly in the not-particularly-harsh climate of northern California.)

The model I have is (unsurprisingly) no longer sold, but its successor still is: the Davis Vantage Pro2. (I have the original Vantage Pro.) It’s expensive, and overkill, and I might not buy it today. But the hardware is resilient, solar powered, with a wireless transmitter for relaying data.

For years, I had to connect a receiver console (which displays an array of weather data inside my house) to a Mac via a serial cable (via a USB converter box), but last year I bought Davis’s Ethernet-based relay module, simplifying my set-up dramatically. Today the weather station is mounted on the back corner of my roof, and the console is below it in my bedroom, receiving signals, displaying weather data, and passing along all that data via an Ethernet cable.

Davis’s WeatherLink software is bad and their support for the Mac has always been terrible. These days I use WeatherCat 2 from Trixology, a $60 Mac-only utility that’s compatible with numerous weather stations, including the Davis Vantage line. WeatherCat has a bunch of baked-in status pages that it can generate, but at some point about a decade ago I taught myself PHP a few years back and fashioned a somewhat more dynamic page myself. I really need to upgrade it with more modern web technology, but who has the time?

WeatherCat also does the job of uploading my data to Weather Underground, so I can use those service’s apps to view my own live and historical weather data, too. If you’ve got an iPad, check out Wunderstation—it’s a pretty great little app, and if you discover there’s already a weather station in your neighborhood, it might be all you need! It turns out that there are two Weather Underground weather stations in the community where my mother lives, and two within a couple of miles of my sister-in-law’s place, so on a foggy summer day in the Bay Area I can check their weather and imagine what it must be like to be somewhere hot during the summer. It also means that they can check their local temperatures without having to install any hardware at all—someone else has done that work, but everyone who uses Weather Underground can benefit.

If I were buying a weather station today (or if my current station died), I’d probably spend less money and consider something like the Netatmo Weather Station, which comes with its own iOS apps, offers a modular approach that lets you buy more components as you go (for a lot less money than my Davis station), and even works with WeatherCat. (WeatherCat also works with a wide array of other station types, so even if those stations’ native Mac support is questionable, there’s a Mac app that will work just fine.) I suppose I’d also consider the Davis Vantage Vue, a lower-cost version of my station. While I might complain about the price of the high-end Davis stations and the lousy Mac software, I have to admit that the station’s resilience over nearly 12 years has earned some loyalty.

With my weather station, I can look on my console, my iPhone, or even a few screens I’ve got throughout the house (repurposed old Slim Devices Squeezeboxes with a Weather Underground plug-in) that display the current temperature. On my Mac I use BitBar to display the current temperature in my menu bar, along with the change in degrees from the same time yesterday. That way, I can tell if it’s going to be warmer or colder and plan accordingly.

Is this necessary in life? Probably not, but it’s fun. I’ve collected years of rain and temperature data for my location, so I can make declarations about how it’s been the rainiest January in years or the hottest May or what have you. And because of the geography of the Bay Area region, most weather forecasts for my particular city are not reliable.1

So, weather stations aren’t for everyone, but if you’re someone who is fascinated by weather and statistics and gadgetry, it might be for you.

  1. Most weather sources are pegged to a nearby city. In places where temperatures don’t vary much, that’s fine. In the Bay Area, it’s a problem. On a foggy summer day, it can be 60 degrees (15C) at my house, but if I jump in my car and drive north, the temperature can rise to 90 degrees (32C) in about 20 minutes. 

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