November 20, 2008 in Voices

Home weather stations make forecasts hyperlocal

Pat Munts Staff writer
 

Wouldn’t it be nice to know when a frost is about to hit your garden? How about knowing what the rainfall totals are in your yard so you can turn off the sprinklers for a few days? Wouldn’t if be fun to know how different your microclimate is from the official readings at the National Weather Service office?

Then a home weather station might be for you. The electronics revolution, especially the emergence of wireless technology, has put highly accurate but affordable stations within easy reach of anyone with a little outdoor space.

Just like their professional grade cousins used by the weather service to create forecasts, a home weather station collects information on temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and rainfall amounts. The raw data is transmitted either by a cable or wirelessly to a receiver in the house. The indoor receiver displays the data on a screen for easy viewing of the real-time weather conditions or networked to your computer. The information can even be uploaded to the Internet where the world can see what’ happening in your yard.

The outdoor sensing equipment can be set up anywhere in the garden as long as it is within range of the receiving unit. I have a simple temperature and humidity sensor in my vegetable garden that lets me follow the temperatures right amongst the tomatoes. Sophisticated units will allow you to create all kinds of charts and graphs and then store the information in a database. Then you really know what YOUR first and last frost dates are, how much rain fell in your garden and the high and low temperatures through the seasons. You don’t have to translate the National Weather Service data; you will know for sure.

Home weather stations are not complicated to install or use. Most packages come complete with all the instruments you need and require only a post for mounting. The outdoor instrument package is powered with a battery or a solar cell with a battery backup for night readings. Weather stations can vary in cost from $200 to several thousand, with several good, accurate units available in the $200-400 range.

Weather stations should be sited in the most open, sunny spot you have in the yard, away from trees and open to the wind. They need to be away from heat traps like large buildings or windows that give off heat and can skew temperature readings, and out from under roof eaves where the rain gauge won’t read correctly.

Maintenance is pretty simple. The unit needs to be dusted off after the summer dust storms, and the rain gauge needs to have debris removed. A pine tree seed can easily plug the rain gauge on some units. Batteries will need to be replaced periodically.

Pat Munts is a Master Gardener who has gardened the same piece of Spokane Valley land for 30 years. She can be reached at pat@inlandnwgardening.com.


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