Choosing the best weather station can be extremely difficult due to the huge variations available.
To ensure that the correct choice is made, it is vital, ahead of time, to consider what the system needs to accomplish. Failure to do so can result in making an expensive mistake by purchasing a unit that is unsuitable for your particular needs, especially considering that most low cost weather stations cannot be expanded or upgraded.
It doesn’t make any sense to purchase an expensive weather station that has precise sensor instrumentation if the location where it will be used is poor and has limited exposure to the weather that is to be measured.
You will always receive better weather measurements using a low cost weather station with average sensors if it used at a good location over using a more expensive station that is poorly located.
So how do you measure how good a location is?
The ideal location should be suitable for the weather elements that you wish to measure, keeping as close to the recommended guidelines as possible.
These guidelines ensure that differences in reporting specific weather are due to climatic variations rather than erroneous reporting due to poorly sited equipment.
However, unless you are extremely fortunate, some compromises must be made. But with proper planning you should be able to achieve results that will be directly comparable to other locations.
So let’s check out the ideal location for each element to be measured!
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) offer the following guidance:
“The best site for temperature measurements is, over level ground, freely exposed to sunshine and wind and not shielded by, or close to, trees, buildings and other obstructions”
- The ideal position for monitoring air temperature and humidity is on flat ground at a height between 4’1” and 6’7” (1.25m-2.0m)
- Ideally short grass is best, and you would want to avoid mounting on areas of artificial surfaces such as concrete, tarmac, rock or other dark colored surfaces.
- The sensors should be placed at twice the horizontal distance away from the height of the nearest object, such as a tree or building. So if you have 10 foot tree, you should place the weather station at least 20 foot away.
Why does it matter?
Air temperature is probably the most important meteorological quantity to get right, but annoyingly is also the easiest to get wrong due to incorrect exposure caused by poor siting.
Care is needed to ensure the measurement is both representative of the local conditions and accurate.
Installing a station at the correct height above ground is vital as ground temperature is much warmer during periods of sunshine and much colder throughout the night. Gradients at higher altitudes also influence temperature.
An air temperature sensor installed at a level between 4 and 6 feet provides the most accurate representative measurement.
Short grass provides the best representation of natural conditions. Man-made surfaces such as tarmac or other dark surfaces take longer to cool down so end up giving biased readings as the ground temperature will be much hotter than normal.
The odds are that unless you have a large property, your site will suffer from some shelter effects that are unavoidable.
In an ideal world you want to achieve a minimum shelter ratio of 2. So for a site that has a building 20 foot high, to achieve a shelter rating of 2 you would need to place the station 40 foot away if possible.
Ensuring that the sensors are placed well away from trees and buildings ensures that they are well exposed to sunshine and wind.
If obstructions are too close, achieving a low shelter rating, air temperatures will often be incorrectly measured. This can lead to either a lack of exposure to sunshine giving lower temperature readings or an increased level of refraction giving on average a 2-5 degree/F increased temperature.
A more open site is preferable.
Using the above guidelines, it is worth thinking about exactly where you can site your weather station
If your only option is to site your weather station on concrete right next to your house or thick hedge, you will be less concerned with the tighter temperate sensor specification of more expensive stations.
Good news! You have saved some money! It is pointless spending too much when a budget solution would make more sense.
The 900-IP from Ambient Weather is the best weather station for those that can take advantage of looser sensor accuracy. It provides a good selection of measurements and does so using a very stable wireless connection.
Best Low Cost Weather Station
If however, you have a flat area of grass far enough away from obstructions, you can consider purchasing a weather station that has higher quality sensors.
Rainfall is much easier to site for.
All weather stations come with a rain gauge built in next to the temperature sensor. As long as you set up the station in line with the correct location for temperature, rainfall is automatically in the right place.
Wind Speed & Direction
Measuring wind offers the biggest challenge for weather junkies due to the frictional effects caused by nearby houses and trees, especially if the anemometer is mounted too low. This can result in wind speeds being under recorded by 20% to 30%.
The WMO suggests that in order to accurately capture wind speed and direction, anemometers should be:
- Ideally placed at a horizontal distance of 10 times the height of the nearest obstruction.
- Ideally mounted at 10 meters(32.8 feet) above ground level.
For most people the best you can do is to mount the anemometer as high as possible in as open a position as possible.
For those lucky enough to live in a rural area these guidelines should be achievable by attaching the anemometer to a mast 10 meters up, then secure it using cable stays. It is worth noting that some areas will need planning permission for mast installations.
However, for those that don’t have that much space, you can either mount the anemometer to your chimney using an extension pole or use an antenna mast.
A further option is to use eave cross mounts. Many aerial installers will do the job if you don’t fancy risking life and limb!
However, these guidelines create a problem
Most weather stations are all in one systems.
This means that the anemometer is built in, so sits next to all the other sensors and cannot be sited separately.
If you decided to mount the entire all in one system 10 meters high, precipitation will be under reported due to the wind blowing rain away from the gauge. Air temperature will also be incorrectly reported. You will also have the hassle of reaching it when you need to clean out debris from the rain gauge.
In order to accurately measure wind speed you would need to purchase a weather station that provides a separate anemometer that can be sited away from the temperature and rain sensors.
So this means you need to make a choice
You can either compromise and site the entire all in one weather station 6 feet or so off the ground and accept the reduction in wind speed accuracy, or you can look for a more professional system that allows you to site the anemometer separately.
It depends just how serious you are and how accurate you want to be!
Professional systems tend to be more robust. Those living in areas of harsh weather will benefit from avoiding the cheapest systems that are unlikely to last beyond a year or two.
More expensive stations also provide more flexibility, allowing you to initially purchase the basic system and then expand it as required by adding additional sensors as funds allow.
More accurate sensors with lightning fast update speeds provide a weather station that allows you to observe weather data in real time, rather than cheaper versions with slower reporting speeds.
Davis Instruments really are the kings at this level. A US based company that produce weather stations that can really be called professional. They are more expensive though.
The Vantage Pro 2 is the obvious choice for the best professional weather station. Robust, expandable and accurate are some of the reasons it is Weather Underground’s most popular weather station.
Best Professional Weather Station
For those that can live without a system of separates or have a limited budget, it makes sense to opt for a mid-range system.
Mid-range weather stations are a decent compromise between accuracy and price, however, they are not expandable.
The decision on which one is right for you comes down to individual preferences.
Dedicated Weather Display or Weather App?
Do you require a dedicated display or are you happy to view the weather data through an app such as the excellent one from Weather Underground via your tablet.
For those happy with an app only solution for use with a cloud service, the Ambient Weather 1400-IP is the clear winner.
It really is fantastic value, not only does it have decent accuracy, it also beats other mid-range solutions by additionally measuring UV and Solar radiation.
The only other weather station that does this is the Davis Vantage Pro2, and while the Davis sensors are more accurate, they are also a lot more expensive.
Best Weather Station For Weather Underground
For those that would prefer a dedicated weather display, three stand out.
Ambient Weather add a display to their 1400-IP station with the WS-1001. A well rounded package that has a good build quality and the huge selling point of the additional UV and Solar sensors. However, the dedicated display is cluttered and has no battery capability so must be plugged in at all times. A big oversight.
The cheaper Acurite 1057 offers a great value package although weather stations in this price range are fairly inaccurate . It does have a lower build quality than the Ambient WS-1001 and doesnt have the UV & solar sensors. However, sensor accuracy is the same and the supplied weather display is very easy to read.
We couldn’t overlook the fantastic value of the Acurite and found it a decent compromise between the low end and professional weather stations at a great price.
Best Value Digital Weather Station
The Vantage Vue is the entry level weather station from Davis Instruments. It come supplied with an outdated display that looks like it belongs in the 1980’s, there are also additional costs involved in uploading weather data to the internet. However, build quality and accuracy are way better than the Chinese Acurite and Ambient stations. This is an outstanding station and deservedly takes our award for best mid range weather station. The only decision is whether to pay a bit more and go for the expandable Pro2.
Best Mid Range Digital Weather Station