Guest essay by Andi Cockroft
I wish I had read Anthony’s excellent article “Thinking of buying a weather station for Christmas? Read this first.” published late last year. Then again, I bought my cheap Chinese weather station a good 6 months before it was published so I was kind of fishing around in the dark on my own.
My home is completely off-grid, but I do have the comforts of home including (albeit slow) Internet via 3G. Netflix and Satellite TV provide the evening’s entertainment when it’s just too wet and wild to be outdoors.
Power is solar with gasoline back-up, so a 12v supply is pretty plentiful. In addition I run my 5v devices through a 20 amp Buck converter so all my handy little modern appliances are kept fully charged.
Anyhow, at an elevation of 400 metres (1300’) above sea level on a cliff looking south over New Zealand’s Cook Strait, I do get battered pretty frequently by strong southerly winds blowing directly from the Antarctic. These are regularly reported in the media as being over 160Kph (100Mph). But are they really?
So, being curious about such things, I looked around and found a reasonably priced (I thought) unit that seemed to offer everything I needed. It measured rain, wind (speed and direction), humidity and both internal and external temperatures. An outdoor unit was solar powered, with an indoor base powered by either batteries or 5v micro USB. The USB also allowed data to be downloaded to a PC. Seemed ideal – at the time.
First things first – assemble and install:-
Southerlies Regularly Hit Here at 160Kph
The indoor unit shows things in detail:-
As can be seen, this is branded DIGITECH in New Zealand
Branded as DIGITECH in New Zealand, it turns out that this is actually a “Fine Offset WH1080”. Made in China, but at least carrying a warranty from a reputable high-street supplier.
….and it came bundled with software called “EasyWeather” – which seemed to work reasonably well but it did have its drawbacks as I will describe later.
On a nice calm day, the view from my door across the Cook Strait to New Zealand’s South Island is truly magnificent. However, given the winds that can arrive here, the WH1080 just wasn’t up to the job.
In total, I have had 2 units replaced under warranty due to wind breakages and 2 units replaced due to failure of the unit itself. Couple that to failure of the included alkaline rechargeable batteries in the outdoor unit, and boy am I glad I bought from a high-street supplier who honoured their warranty rather than import directly from China myself.
The view from my door across the Cook Strait
The final solution just to make it survive, was to dispense with a rather fragile plastic arm that kept breaking and glue the main unit onto the support pole. To date it has survived several storms with winds well up to 100mph and came out unscathed.
Glue the main unit onto the support pole
Downsides to all this, as Anthony’s article would have told me had I read it before embarking on this adventure in technology would have cautioned my against these cheap Chinese units. But heh, I’ve come so far already so not time yet to abandon the project!
But I did mention downsides:-
Number one for me was sheer power consumption. For most this isn’t going to be a real issue, but for me living off-grid and relying on solar panels, running a PC 24×7 is just not on. I needed a better way.
Two, the rain gauge is far from accurate. Last week apparently I had 5½ metres of rain overnight!!!! A slight exaggeration it seems.
But the other gauges seem reasonable. Temperatures, wind and direction agree reasonably closely with regional expectations. Not sure about humidity and dew point but not something I’m geared up to measure any other way.
Once the bug actually bites, a quick search reveals all sorts of places that weather enthusiasts come together to share their data and help contribute towards a global set of amateur weather stations. The bundled EasyWeather software already had support built in for WeatherUnderground, WeatherBug and WeatherCloud. And this is where I started.
Opening an account at WeatherUnderground couldn’t be easier, and mine is now registered as IWELLING358 found at https://www.wunderground.com/personal-weather-station/dashboard?ID=IWELLING358
As I said earlier though, running a PC 24×7 is just not an option for me, so I was only able to update WeatherUnderground in the morning and evening when my PC is turned on. The rest of the day it lies idle just to save on power so the data at WeatherUnderground was stale most of the time.
So bearing in mind I have 12v and 5v readily available, I decided to take the bull by the horns and dig out an old Raspberry Pi that hadn’t been used for years. A quick rub down, reinstall the Linux operating system and then look to an application that would provide the functionality of EasyWeather for uploading to WeatherUnderground. My search honed in quite quickly on WVIEW as being the most popular (or so it seemed). WVIEW webpage is at http://www.wviewweather.com/
Regrettably I wasted a week or so of my time trying to get WVIEW up and running, but maybe my skillset, maybe the Raspberry Pi or just simple gremlins, nothing I did could kick it into life. So more research and WEEWX looked promising. And I have to report that it installed first time simply following the very straight-forward instructions from the website. Find WEEWX at http://weewx.com/
The nice thing about WEEWX is that not only does it upload to many weather services in addition to WeatherUnderground, it also generates a website that can be viewed via Apache, Nginx etc.
Unfortunately I don’t have an external IP with my 3G internet service, so cannot directly access the web interface remotely. However, I do have access to a remote web server and every 5 minutes as the data is updated at WeatherUnderground, a script also FTP’s the whole WEEWX website across to a public web server. This is at http://weather.andic.co.nz – note the timestamp is in Pacific/Auckland time.
As time permits, I might get around to changing things, but the standard WEEWX layout is pretty comprehensive – at least for now.
One day I might progress to bigger and better things, and certainly heed Anthony’s warnings, but for now things are stable – if it ain’t busted, don’t fix it !
Should you decide to head in this direction and set up your own personal weather station, don’t do as I did – read Anthony’s article first!
Full disclosure: Andi Cockroft is one of our WUWT volunteer moderators living in New Zealand