01 September 2021

Weather All Around

Like many Amateur Radio geeks, I'm also a weather geek. I keep my eye on the 'weather glass' (an old nautical way of saying I watch the barometer), I'm checking on the National Weather Service website almost hourly if there's heavy weather inbound, I hang out on NWSChat, and work with our local ARES team that supports the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Peachtree City, GA.

And like a lot of geeky hams, I run a home weather station. I have it set up to monitor the conditions on my property, so it's not in what a weather professional would call an 'ideal location'; I just want to know what's happening off of my deck, my 'micro-weather' so to speak. If I need a county or state-level snapshot of what's happening there are other resources I can tap.

For years I ran one of the inexpensive AcuRite 5-in-1 stations, mounted to a pole on my deck. It worked well, but about a month ago the indoor display went kaflooie. I figured it was time for an upgrade. Like many serious weather folks, I decided to get a Davis Instruments wireless weather station. I've heard only good things about the Davis line of products, and settled on the wireless Vantage Pro 2 setup with the WeatherLink option. While the Vantage Pro line isn't really professional grade it certainly is 'serious hobbiest' grade and gets high marks for accuracy and durability. My brother has been running one of these at his house near Dayton, Ohio, for 20 years, and it's been as reliable as a brick. I figured that alone was reason enough to go with the Vantage Pro.

Davis describes their wind vane/animometer combo profile
as 'classic'. Can't disagree

When I went to buy it, I bypassed Amazon and went to WeatherShack.com. They offered slightly lower prices than Amazon, their product descriptions were better, and their customer service was great. Plus I figured WeatherShack.com needed my business more than Amazon did.

The Vantage Pro has been up for a week now, and that includes a light brush with Hurricane Ida - some moderate rain and light winds. So it's time for a few initial observations.

  • The entire weather station sensor package is big and heavy as compared to the smaller AcuRite unit. The old piece of 1" pipe that easily supported the AcuRite wasn't going to get it done, not by a long shot. I ended up using an interlocking fiberglass pole set I got from Max-Gain Systems here in Atlanta. MGS makes great products, they are a huge supporter of ham radio, and are regular feature at every local hamfest. I wasn't using this pole set for anything else of importance, and it was beefy enough to support the weather station, so that's what I used. I simply clamped the pole set to one of  my 4" x 4" deck posts. Works like a charm

The main sensor unit is large, and heavy

  • The written documentation provided by Davis Instruments is very good. This includes assembly instructions for the weather sensors, and configuration of things like the data console and the WeatherLink server. The instructions were good enough that I didn't have to turn to any on-line resources for more clarity
  • Davis includes all the mounting hardware you'll need, and it's high quality, heavy duty stainless hardware. No trips to Lowe's or Home Depot required
  • One of the outstanding features of the Davis Instruments ecosystem is the WeatherLink service. The WeatherLink server that came as part of my Vantage Pro package ports near-real-time data from my station to Davis' weather service cloud. It's this WeatherLink cloud service where all the weather data magic happens. It's not just a visualization platform, but it's where you can manage how and where your data is shared. If you want your data archived you'll need to pay a little extra per month (less than $4.00), but given the visualization and analysis features you get, I think it's well worth the extra cost

The WeatherLink dashboard. The individual windows
are configurable and can be moved around to customize what 
data appears where

WeatherLink also has the pre-built connectors to port your weather data out to the Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP) and APRS environments. Just a few clicks of a mouse, and your weather data is on APRS.fi!

Get your live weather data in APRS without radios and TNCs

CWOP will also aggregate your data and make it available through
the APRS.fi website. Just click the 'Your Weather Charts' link
in the weather data pop-up in APRS.fi

Are there any negatives? Several that I can think of, and all are related to the indoor weather console. The console connects wirelessly to the weather sensors mounted outside, and provides people in the house with an always up-to-date weather picture. The console uses an older back-lit LCD screen technology that is poorly laid out, and the layout can't be changed. It's hard to tell at a glance the weather information you are interested in. For our house, it's outside temperature, wind speed and direction, and rainfall. I have to admit, the AcuRite console was more visually pleasing, and allowed me to set the temperature, wind speed/direction and rainfall readings as the most prominent readings - big and bold. A quick glance from across the room told you all you needed to know. With the Davis console, you actually have to stare at it up close for a second or two to understand the readings you are interested in.  

Then, Davis goes against convention in indicating wind direction. For over a hundred years now, we've visually indicated wind direction with arrows, with the tip of the arrow pointed in the direction the wind is headed (for example, if the arrow is pointed straight up, the wind is blowing from south to north). Davis reverses that well established paradigm, and the arrows on its wind direction rose point in the direction the wind is coming from

And last, to make sure you can see the LCD display you need to keep the backlight on at all times. But I've noticed what others have found with this console - it contains a digital thermometer to display indoor temperature, and the sensor must be set close to one of the LCD lights, because the indoor temperature is always indicates two or more degrees hotter than it really is. Turn off the backlight, and the temperature goes down. 

The console is the weak link in the whole Davis setup. It's not a fatal weak link, but considering the cost of the unit, Davis needs to do better.

Looks good in the advertising, but it's got some serious design issues

The console issues aside, I think the Vantage Pro 2 setup and cloud-based ecosystem are pretty slick. I'm looking forward to providing gigabytes of useless data to weather and APRS geeks for years to come. So check in on APRS.fi to see what's happening on my little patch of dirt!

W8BYH out

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