Personal Weather Stations

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Personal Weather Stations

Post by dfw_pilot » Thu Mar 02, 2017 5:18 pm

I decided to purchase a personal weather station (PWS) and would like to share a little bit about my experience. With so many options and connection abilities, taking the first step was a bit daunting. However, once I got going, things came together quite easily, so I thought I’d make a write up for anyone who would also like to get into setting up their own PWS.

Why?

For me, I’m gone a lot, like 20+ days a month, so having one is great to keep tabs on rain fall totals, temperatures, ET, soil moisture/temp, etc. My wife would occasionally phone in a rain gauge readout, but being pregnant while wrangling three young kids (have you ever tried to herd cats on a full stomach?), my weather desires fell to her last priority. Plus, a PWS will tell me a lot more than a rain gauge will. Also, once connected to Al Gore’s internet, a PWS will give me historical data, and share all that data with all my interested neighbors. It’s fun to give back to the weather community and share in the knowledge that helps produce forecasts for everyone.

Which One?

This is like asking which car do you want. There are lots of options, but quality and durability were tops on my list. I subscribe to the notion that the poor man pays twice. I read a lot of people’s stories where they bought a cheaper model only to buy a better one, and then finally, on their third one, got a nice one. I can’t afford to do that, so I bought a Davis first. They have good connection options (to software and internet WX sites) and the Pro models offer upgradability for future add ons. I wanted to be able to add soil moisture probes and be able to calculate ET, UV, and Solar radiation, so I went with the Vantage Pro2 Plus. If you don’t want all those calculations, a Vantage Vue is a great option, too.

Viewing Data

PWS’s will come with a console that shows all the data that it receives from the station outside. As I’ve learned, except for the actual instruments outside, the rest of the weather station hardware still thinks it’s 1991. iPads have spoiled us because most consoles come with little lcd displays with a backlight. I guess wx geeks don’t care, but for the rest of us, it’s a little shocking. Out of the console, there are serial (yes, serial, remember that?) connections for connecting to a computer. Hello 1987!

Getting online

The real sweetness of owning your own PWS is getting it online. You can check on your data from anywhere, plus you can share your information with neighbors and the world. Essentially, you connect your console to the internet, and it sends along all the data it receives. We put our console in my office, but it could easily be placed at the end of the kitchen counter for everyone to see. This is where all my Google reading drove me crazy. PWS->Console->Internet isn’t very straight forward or intuitive. I needed to buy a data logger, which does two things: 1) Exports the data received from the console to some other device like a computer, 2) stores data for a while if the computer is not on and recording that data. For Davis consoles, you can choose serial, USB 1(!), or ethernet via WeatherLink IP. Some windows computers use serial, but most people go with either WeatherLink or USB. I went with the USB data logger. The ethernet “IP” logger initially looks attractive, but it is hobbled by a high price, and being locked into WeatherLink.com which is run by Davis. Your data uploads to Weatherlink, and then some (not all) is sent to other places like Weather Underground. USB/Serial will send all your data directly to weather sites without the need of WeatherLink, or having to depend on WeatherLink to be working.

The USB logger then plugs into a USB hub because many devices now won’t read the data from USB 1, so the hub transfers it to something readable with USB 2. At this point, you have a lot of options again. Many people connect this USB hub to a computer that runs 24/7. Software like WeatherCat then record the data, display it in graphs, and upload it to a myriad of weather websites like Weather Underground, NWS, CWOP, and so forth. I didn’t want to run a computer 24/7, mainly for energy reasons, but it also seemed like a pain. What if the console could upload automatically to the internet, and I could use my computer to see the data only when I wanted to? That sounded like the best of both worlds, so that is the route I took. Meteobridge solved that for me. It’a small router with almost no energy usage that was the missing link between the console and the internet that didn’t involve a computer being on all the time. (There are other options, but this is the route I took). You can build your own Meteobridge or buy one already set up for you. It is half the size of an iPhone, accepts a USB input (from the data logger/hub) and will connect to your internet, either by ethernet or wifi. I use the ethernet connection for better reliability.

Give your Meteobridge a static IP on your network. This is good network practice anyway, but will help you find it later when logging into it. With a static IP, I just enter its IP which takes me to the login screen. Setup is dead easy, and there you can tell it about your PWS, its Lat/Long, and where you want to upload your data to. To upload to a website, setup an online account with each one, then enter those credentials into the Meteobridge GUI. After running the Meteobridge for nearly a year with no problems, I decided to branch out and buy WeatherCat, even though this would mean my computer needed to run 24/7. I like the simple website that the Meteobridge will make via the Saratoga-Weather templates, but in the end, I wanted to make a fancier website, so I use WeatherCat for that. I still use the Meteobridge, and it hasn't let me down.

Websites

If you only upload to one website, I suggest Weather Underground (even if you are conservative, ha!). It will accept data every five seconds to give you and anyone else “rapid fire” information on a site like this, and you can share that site with family, neighbors, and friends. Weather Underground is also a great place to send data to for historical recording, graphs, and use with apps. Setup an account with them here and you can manage things to your geek’s content.

For iPhone, there are a few really good options for apps, most of which pull data from Weather Underground (another reason to sign up for an account there). My favorite is PWS Monitor for both iPhone and iPad. For iPad only, Wunder Station is a good option. Even if you don't have a PWS, these are great apps to use to see stations near your location. If you buy WeatherCat, you can use an app to see your data live, streamed from your home computer.

Software

Remembering that a lot of this stuff hasn’t changed from the early 90’s, most software is written for the copy-cat operating system of that era. For Mac, there are very few options, but that almost makes it easier. Weather Display has a crappy version written for OS X, Weather Snoop is popular and is available from the App Store, and WeatherCat has a free trial that I eventually paid for. Here is a great list of available weather software.

With a web host, you can also use Saratoga Templates, uploaded to your host, which your Meteobridge will populate for you automatically, without the need of a 24/7 computer. I spent an hour or so fiddling with the Saratoga templates and made the "Meteo" section of my website, without the need of a running computer.

Irrigation Controllers

Some fancy irrigation controllers come with their own suite of sensors for soil moisture, rain fall rates and totals, and more. However, PWS’s are much more accurate than the cheap sensors that come with those nice controllers, and an irrigation controller with good integration to use PWS data is a good way to go. For this, I use a Rachio, which I reviewed here. It waters your grass based on evapotranspiration calculated directly from your PWS data. You can set the Rachio to be as hands on or hands off as you like, and it has done a great job on my lawn using my weather station data. It is controlled via a website or an even better iPhone app for worldwide access to your lawn’s watering needs.

Installation

For the setup, I simply dug a hole and put a 4x4 post in the ground. I read that a good formula for hole depth for a post is the buried post should be half the length of post that remains above ground. I also surrounded the post with crushed granite instead of concrete for two reasons. 1) Concrete will hold water next to the post and rot it faster whereas gravel like material will let water shed away from the post, and 2) I didn't want a nightmare if I wanted to remove this someday.

I connected a 1.25 inch conduit pole to the post because the PWS will mount easier to a pole, and adjusting height and direction is then easier, too. The whole setup is very solid. Technically, the anemometer should be 30' in the air but mine isn't due to local restrictions (HOA). The temperature should be taken roughly 5-7' above ground or grass (not asphalt). Finally, I installed a grounding wire. I've read that this won't do much to protect against lighting strikes (my wire isn't big enough, it's six gauge copper) but at least it makes me feel better, and it will cut down on static electricity buildup on the station instruments from wind. The grounding rod is six feet deep and pounding it down wasn't fun!

TL;DR

I hope to develop an accurate watering strategy by using E/T, Soil Moisture, and rain fall amounts to take the deep and infrequent lawn watering to another level. Besides being fun to muck around with, a PWS may end up paying for itself in irrigating water savings. PWS are a great way to learn about the weather, treat your lawn right, and share your data with others, from neighbors down the street to scientists at the NWS. Finally, I bought my equipment at Scientific Sales. They have great customer service and are much cheaper than retail.

All the best, and hope this helps.

dfw

Here's a banner image from my weather page:

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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Ware » Thu Mar 02, 2017 7:26 pm

Wow, excellent write-up. :thumbup:

A few questions:

1) Did you flash your own TP-Link router to make the meteobridge?

2) Which USB data logger/hub did you go with?

3) How did you attach your 1-14" conduit to the post?
Last edited by Ware on Fri Mar 03, 2017 8:23 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Ware » Fri Mar 03, 2017 8:23 am

So I think I found the answer to half of #2... the USB data logger is a Davis 6510USB that is designed to plug neatly into the console - not a third party device.

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Answers

Post by dfw_pilot » Fri Mar 03, 2017 11:33 am

I wasn't very clear in my long-form post about the data logger. You are right, if you get a Davis weather station, there are Davis loggers you will need to use. USB/Serial/Ethernet. For other PWS brands, I'm not sure what system is used. For a USB hub, just any cheap $3 one will do, as long as it's USB 2.

I didn't flash my TP-Link, I got it preconfigured here. However, if I were to do it over again, I think I'd be comfortable with flashing it, as it saves about 50% on the price.

Finally, I attached the pole to the post with clamps. It's a really tight fit, but just for insurance, I put an L bracket on the bottom of the pole, to keep it from sliding down. This can be seen in the picture with the grounding wire above.

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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by SGrabs33 » Fri Mar 03, 2017 3:00 pm

Great write up DFW, these things look pretty cool. I use WeatherUnderground as my go to app for weather but have never looked into the PWS. I actually found two stations within 200 yards of my home. Neither of them do soil temps, which would be would be interested in, but they both have rain gauges which will help me decide when I need to water my lawn :thumbup:

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Illustration

Post by Ware » Wed Mar 08, 2017 10:44 am

I'm a visual learner. Here is a nice graphic from Ambient Weather that illustrates how everything dfw mentioned above connects/talks; however, it does not show the USB hub that is required between the WeatherLink USB and the WeatherBridge. It seems like an odd requirement in 2017, but it looks like it is not unique to Davis stations - other brands require it too.

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Davis Vantage Vue PWS + MeteoBridge Pro

Post by Ware » Tue Mar 21, 2017 8:43 pm

There is definitely something intriguing about the idea of collecting your own weather data for your lawn's micro-climate. In my case, I'm about 13 miles from the the airport where the National Weather Service records conditions, so things like precipitation totals can vary wildly from what I actually see.

I've read a lot and I definitely think the Cadillac of personal weather stations is probably the Davis Vantage Pro2 Plus. Dollar for dollar, it's hard to beat if you're looking for a PWS with all the bells and whistles. The ability to add the Wireless Soil Station is just icing on the cake. Knowing soil moisture could really take the guesswork out of when your lawn needs water.

That said, I went a slightly different direction - for a few reasons:
  1. My wife thinks the Vantage Pro2 Plus would be an eyesore. I guess I can see where she is coming from - it is a large PWS, we have a small back yard, and the best location for it is on our south fence line next to a street. Everyone coming and going from our subdivision would have to look at it. It's probably an acquired taste. :D
  2. Location. I really don't have an ideal place to put a PWS. Here are some suggestions on how to properly site one, and my lot pretty much breaks all the rules... so it would basically be like buying the Cadillac and having to park it in the street. For example, my wind readings will always be junk.
  3. Cost/benefit. The Vantage Pro2 Plus, along with the additional hardware to get it online was going to cost about $1,200. Adding the soil station is an additional $350-500, depending on the sensor loadout. That was just a little more than I was willing to spend right now for what I want to get out of it. However, the Vantage Pro2 is very modular - you can buy a basic unit and add things like $olar radiation and UV $ensor$ at a later date (although it's cheaper to just bite the bullet up front).
  4. My wife said it would be an eyesore. No really, she did. :D
So rather than get a new wife, I decided to explore some other options. I really liked the form factor of the Rainwise MK-III, but they aren't exactly small and they are a little more expensive than the Davis units for what you get. I do like how they interface directly with the web and all the popular PWS sites via the IP-100 Network Interface without first routing through the console and a separate data logger.

Speaking of the Davis consoles... it's 2017 - the segment LCD screen just isn't cutting it for me. I've also struggled with why the transfer of data has to be so complicated... Integrated Sensor Suite (ISS) > Console > USB Data Logger > USB Hub > WeatherBridge > Router > Web. I wish the Davis hardware folks would get together for drinks after work with the Netatmo software folks - I would pre-order their lovechild. :D

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dfw_pilot had mentioned the Davis Vantage Vue, and it looked like it would meet most of my needs for now, but it lacks the ability to integrate the soil station and other add-on sensors like solar radiation and UV. I guess if the Vantage Pro2 Plus is the Cadillac, the Vue would probably be like the Buick of the PWS world. :D

Anyway, yesterday I ran across an interesting package offered by Ambient Weather. It's a Vue ISS and a Weatherbridge Pro offered without the Davis console. The Weatherbridge Pro is basically the same network interface shown in the graphic above, but with the added functionality of RF communication directly with Davis wireless sensor modules (no console needed), 1GB of internal data logging capacity (more than a decade of weather data), and a small scrolling display. It is the size of a cigarette box, has a power footprint of only 1-2 Watts, and both LAN and WiFi capabilities (2.4 GHz, 802.11g/n).

The Weatherbridge Pro is a little pricey at $425, but not terrible considering it offsets the need for a Davis Console (which I had little interest in), $120 Davis USB Data Logger and the $210 Meteobridge/USB Hub. I paid $580 for the package, which is basically a wash with what I would have paid for a Vue/Console, Davis Data Logger and Meteobridge. The big win is I will have the option to add a Davis Soil Station, as the Weatherbridge Pro will receive the RF signal directly from it. Finally, if I ever move and/or decide to upgrade to a Vantage Pro2 Plus ISS, I'm basically only out the $155 cost of the Vue ISS. Everything else will integrate seamlessly.

Sorry for the long-winded post - just throwing this out there as another option. I'll post some pictures once I have everything set up. :)

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ETA: Here is a look at the scrolling display of the Meteobridge Pro:


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TL;DR - The Vantage Pro2 Plus was a little too much for my current needs, so I ordered a Vantage Vue ISS and a Weatherbridge Pro. The Weatherbridge Pro receives RF signals directly from Davis wireless sensor modules, eliminating the need for the antiquated Davis consoles ;) and a separate data logger.
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Re: Davis Vantage Vue PWS + MeteoBridge Pro

Post by Ware » Sat Mar 25, 2017 12:19 pm

Everything is up and running. I had some trouble getting the MetroBridge Pro to pick up a good RF signal from the Davis ISS last night, but I did some reading and adjusted a sensitivity setting in the software. Everything seems to be working well now.

Weather Underground: KARALMA7

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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Mightyquinn » Sun Mar 26, 2017 6:19 am

Glad to see you have everything up and running and was able to find something the wife approved of!!!

I really like the WeatherBridge Pro!! That is a very neat unit with the display and everything and the ability to use the Davis Soil Station is a plus.

So you didn't get the console for the Vue?

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Re: Davis Vantage Vue PWS + MeteoBridge Pro

Post by Ware » Sun Mar 26, 2017 9:45 am

Mightyquinn wrote:
Sun Mar 26, 2017 6:19 am
Glad to see you have everything up and running and was able to find something the wife approved of!!!

I really like the WeatherBridge Pro!! That is a very neat unit with the display and everything and the ability to use the Davis Soil Station is a plus.

So you didn't get the console for the Vue?

Correct, no console - Ambient Weather basically packaged a $155 Vue ISS with the $425 WB Pro. It worked out to be just a little cheaper than a Vue/Console ($270) + 6510USB Data Logger ($108) + Weatherbridge/USB Hub ($210). I wasn't all that interested in the console, so it made sense. I can add one later if I change my mind.

The WB Pro RF reception was very finicky at first, but adjusting the RF sensitivity helped tremendously:

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It might have had a lot to do with my site - I have the WB Pro 2ft from my iMac screen and there are two walls and two tv's between it and the outdoor ISS, which is located under some overhead power lines... and above some underground power. :|

The Meteobridge Pro (or "Weatherbridge Pro" from Ambient Weather) is advertised to have a 300ft line-of-sight range, with a disclaimer that "real world" range is about 100ft with barriers/walls, etc. I'm at about 85ft, and looking at my RF signal strength I would say that is probably accurate.

I do like that I can add a soil station later if I want - that is something that turned me away from the Vue at first; however, I have also read that you can run a Vantage Pro console with the Vue ISS, which would allow the addition of a soil station monitoring. The consoles are just RF receivers, and the Vue console is not designed to process the additional data points from soil stations and extra wireless temp/anemometer stations.

As for the MB Pro, there is probably some limit to the actual number of data points you can monitor, but it has options to add up to eight stations on the 915MHz (US) frequency band. These are the options:

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Soil Station

Post by dfw_pilot » Thu Apr 13, 2017 10:53 pm

This is the Davis soil station that connects wirelessly to the Vantage Pro console. I originally had it mounted to the same post as my PWS. However, since I'm planning to move my PWS to just inside my fence on a metal pole, I decided to move the soil station to a new location.

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It really needs to face south for best solar panel exposure. I was also only using one pair of probes: a soil temp with soil moisture. I bought the station with 8 probes (four temp and four moisture), and a leaf wetness sensor, and wanted to get them all running.

I bought a length of 18-8 (18 gauge irrigation wire with 8 colored strands inside) and used it to extend the probes throughout four sections of my yard. Each probe has two wires connected to it, so I ran four probes from one direction and four from the other direction, which fed into the station. With some help from my wife's uncle, we spliced the cable, soldered the connections, and then used heat shrink to seal it all up. The probes all sit ~ 4 - 5" down and keep track of what the actual water need in the soil is.

I use a Rachio irrigation controller and it calculates when to water based on evapotranspiration (or simply, E/T). I have a request in to Rachio to see if they will integrate soil moisture data - which is superior to E/T calculations. I hope they can make make that work.

Here are what the real time graphs look like:

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If the graph links break, they are here.

Finally, there is another cool option for monitoring soil moisture that isn't very expensive:

Edyn

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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Ware » Fri Apr 14, 2017 7:47 am

I like it. So with the multiple soil probes now installed, do you plan to water manually based on those readings? Or still let the Rachio develop a schedule?
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Staying with Auto

Post by dfw_pilot » Fri Apr 14, 2017 11:09 am

No plans to run it manually. I hope to find the optimal setting on the moisture depletion level that matches the soil moisture probe data. Because one is math and one is a sensor probe, they may not always align, but I hope they'll be close.
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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Topcat » Mon Apr 24, 2017 10:17 am

Great write up, but I am still fuzzy on what I need in order to have a functional PWS. After I get off work I will study this in more detail. I've decided to buy my own PWS. We had a pretty hard rain this morning. When checking Rachio to see if my system would skip I noted the PWS near me (2 miles away) only showed .01". I went to the history for the PWS and noted the site had recorded errors for this station. So I switched to a station on the same block several houses away and they had more accurate data for the rain we had, and a more detailed history for data.

Since I plan on Rachio taking over all watering I need to feel confident in the data it pulls in from a PWS. So I need to get my own.

More questions will follow after I dig into this a little more.

The pic below shows the wild difference between 2 PWS that are located within a couple hundred yards of each other.
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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Ware » Mon Apr 24, 2017 11:03 am

Topcat wrote:
Mon Apr 24, 2017 10:17 am
Great write up, but I am still fuzzy on what I need in order to have a functional PWS. After I get off work I will study this in more detail. I've decided to buy my own PWS. We had a pretty hard rain this morning. When checking Rachio to see if my system would skip I noted the PWS near me (2 miles away) only showed .01". I went to the history for the PWS and noted the site had recorded errors for this station. So I switched to a station on the same block several houses away and they had more accurate data for the rain we had, and a more detailed history for data.

Since I plan on Rachio taking over all watering I need to feel confident in the data it pulls in from a PWS. So I need to get my own.

More questions will follow after I dig into this a little more.

The pic below shows the wild difference between 2 PWS that are located within a couple hundred yards of each other.
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This is exactly why I decided to set up my own. There is another one in my neighborhood, but it seems to go offline a lot.

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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Topcat » Mon Apr 24, 2017 12:49 pm

As I start thinking thru where to mount a station I am in a quandary. My fenceline in my back yard is literally surrounded by trees so rain fall would not be measured very accurately. Placing it on the fence between my house and the neighbor's is a no go.

Hmmm, range will be an issue as well. The one place that I think will work might be too far away from my wifi.

I might have to get creative. We have bird feeders in the backyard. Maybe beef one up and make it dual purpose with a weather station on top.

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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Ware » Mon Apr 24, 2017 1:30 pm

I also went through the mental struggle of proper siting. There were no "ideal" locations on my lot. There are some things you must have, like reception, but other than that I would say do your best and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

If you are pushing 100ft or more, I would discourage the use of the MeteoBridge Pro that I talked about above.

Have you decided which station you want?

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Station Type

Post by dfw_pilot » Mon Apr 24, 2017 1:46 pm

Depending on the maker of PWS, many stations like my Davis station, use RF, not WiFi, so you may be able to place it farther from your office than you think. 1,000' is Davis's quoted range, but I'd say 500' max to be safe. Also, there are wired versions, too.
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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Topcat » Mon Apr 24, 2017 4:16 pm

Ware wrote:
Mon Apr 24, 2017 1:30 pm
I also went through the mental struggle of proper siting. There were no "ideal" locations on my lot. There are some things you must have, like reception, but other than that I would say do your best and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

If you are pushing 100ft or more, I would discourage the use of the MeteoBridge Pro that I talked about above.

Have you decided which station you want?
I have zero clue as to which to buy. I am just starting to read up on all the options. I am slightly biased towards the Davis PWS - only because that is all I've looked at up to now.

My goal is to have a PWS up and running before the heat of summer - which is brutal here...

More questions to come as I dig into it more -

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Mightyquinn
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Location: Fayetteville, NC
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Re: Personal Weather Stations

Post by Mightyquinn » Mon Apr 24, 2017 7:41 pm

You can't go wrong with a Davis PWS!! As you can see they have a following here!!! I've had a Davis VP2 for about 6-7 years now and have rarely had an issue with it.

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