Deciding on Weather Instruments

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The Davis Vantage Pro is an example of a high quality instrument package at a reasonable price

One of the most frequent questions I get, particularly during the holiday season, is about purchasing weather instruments. Which are the good ones? How much should one pay?

The good news is that high quality weather instruments are available in all price ranges, with some amateur gear approaching professional quality. And the electronics of some are quite amazing.

There is no more entertaining and satisfying hobby than taking your own weather observations. You get tuned into the changing environment in a very different way than passively watching the TV weather segment. And it is for YOUR location, which is probably very different than Seattle-Tacoma Airport, Portland, or some other major city airport.

Did you know that the founding fathers--like Jefferson and Washington--were weather enthusiasts that took weather observations much of their lives? And look where it got them!George Washington took daily weather observations until the week before he died.

So lets say you are on a tight budget. Many of us are these days. No problem. My suggestion: get a really good rain gauge. A beautiful model used by a group of cooperative observers (CoCoRahs) is available for $25. plus shipping from accurate and durable. Or you could get a truly excellent cloud chart like this one for $5-10 dollars:Such charts are available from many online vendors and some local outlets and will help you learn the cloud types. And those inexpensive digital thermometers that are sold in many stores (e.g., Bartell's, Fred Meyer,Home Depot, etc.) for roughly $10-20 are really fairly accurate. Many are wireless .. making installation easy. I have three of them!
Remember, temperature sensors should be out of the rain on the northern side of your home or apartment. Temperature is ALWAYS measured in the shade. Rain gauges should be in the open AWAY from roofs and trees.

But what if you want to get a full-fledged weather station and even want to interface it to your computer and have the data available on the web? Systems that will give you wind speed and direction, temperature, humidity, pressure and rainfall. No can have this at a steeper, but still reasonable price.

Lets start with the best. If you want to invest in the very best, instrumentation that is near professional in quality and that will last for years, you can't go wrong with the Davis Vantage Pro series (see top picture). My colleagues and I have been impressed with the quality of this instrumentation and its ability to interface to computers and the internet. The cost? $350-$700 depending whether you get wireless or wired and the instrumentation options. If you have the cash get an aspirated (internal fan) temperature shelter/enclosure.

Davis has just come out with a cheaper (though not as good) line..Davis Vantage Vue. And then there is cheaper, less accurate gear from firms like Oregon Scientific, La Crosse, and Ambient. Sometimes these weather stations are even available in COSTCO for under $100! These would be good starter sets and perfectly serviceable if you don't care if your pressure is off by a few mb and the wind speed is in error by a few knots. They may also lack the interfaces to connect to your computer.

This complete weather station only costs $60 from Ambient Weather!

A company, Ambient Weather, sells many of these units (as does Amazon), and has a nice website, with comparisons of the quality of the various units:

Nautical supply houses also sell weather instruments, but prices tend to be high.

And, of course, any of these weather stations would be enhanced with a certain book on northwest Weather, noted in the upper right of this blog, but it would be inappropriate for me to discuss that any further!

Finally, I should note that the availability of these great weather systems and software allowing access via personal computers has been a revolution for my field. THOUSANDS of such stations are online in real time and can be viewed at sites such as The biggest problem is poor siting...many people are not careful where they place the sensors, resulting in bad data.

PS: We are going to have absolutely boring, benign weather during the next five days. Not much precipitation. No lowland snow. Little wind. No heavy rain...even some sun! Dull! Good time to install a weather station!
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