Saturday, January 10, 2009

Weather Station Goes Live

Thanks Mom, Dad, Chuck, Ladonna, and Granny Babe!
This is your Christmas money at work.

Our new weather station. It's. so. CUTE!

Isn't it perky and adorable?

It's the Oregon Scientific WMR200.

It's wireless, has a hygrothermometer, an anemometer and wind direction sensor, and a solar panel (though it also uses batteries, so it's not completely solar).

L to R: hygrothermometer, wind direction gauge and anemometer, solar panel

The system also has a separate rain gauge.

The rain gauge. This unit's got a real sinecure.

I bought it from, which bundles this weather station with a weather hub, allowing me to post my weather data to the Weather Underground. The real beauty of the hub, though, is that it absorbs and transmits data without having to be plugged in to any of our computers--in other words, nothing has to be leashed to my laptop in order for the system to work.

There was a lot of assembly, though it was not, for the most part, difficult assembly--mostly of the insert-pole-A-into-slot-B-and-tighten-screws variety. Contrary to some of the reviews on Amazon, the instruction book was more or less adequate. I'm guessing OS has re-written it in response to customer complaints.

The difficult part, for me, has been the software. See, I've got a weather station--the components report wirelessly back to the control panel, which lives in the study, where it also measures indoor temp, humidity, and pressure.

Control panel and sensors--NOT to scale--panel is about 7" tall.

Then the control panel is connected via USB to the hub, which connect via DLS cable to our internet router. The weather hub is actually a re-purposed Linksys web-server thingummy that's been retrofitted specifically to send out my weather data to a web application called "MeteoHub" as well as to any online weather databases I choose (like

MeteoHub gives me a kind of primative, non-customizable view of my data, but it doesn't have a lot of options, and I can't access it outside of Matt's and my little intranet. So I need to get MeteoHub to pipe the data to my laptop in order to see all of my readings my way (for example, in F instead of C). The app on my laptop that receives the data is a piece of freeware that came with my system called Weather Display. It solves half of my problem--seeing the data in a richer environment--but to view the data remotely (other than through the wunderground, which doesn't show all of the data) you need another program, called Weather Display Live.

Then, just to mix things up, the system also came with an application called "Weather Exchange," which is a way of viewing wunderground data on your desktop--not through a browser. (I don't really get the point of that, frankly.)

As you might imagine, getting all these components to talk to each other is no walk in the park.
  • First, MeteoHub wouldn't pick up all of my sensors. (I think they needed a full day's sun to charge up.)
  • Then I couldn't get to read the data. (I was using my account name instead of my station name in the settings.)
  • Then I couldn't figure out how to get the data from MeteoHub to Weather Display (you have to select "stationless" as the type of weather station and provide Meteohub's URL in the TCP/IP VP tab of COM Port. Which requires downloaded the standard--not-free--version of WD).
  • Then I realized that to view my data remotely, I'd need to download Weather Display Live (and pay for it later).
  • Then I realized that I'd have to forward the data to my own website somehow, and kept getting the FTP settings wrong.
  • Then WD Live wouldn't display the data because it was pointing to the wrong URLs (had to dink with the index.html code and enter "www" in the browser address bar)
  • Then I realized that I'd have to create a separate subdirectly in my website for the weather data.
  • Then I had to muck about in the xml of the wdconfig.xml file to change the display settings.
  • Then I had to do dubious things to the html and css to get my branding and design elements to work with their setting for the Flash elements.
So it's taken 3 days to set the whole thing up, and at times, it's been a bit vertiginous. These programs are written by and for pretty eggheadish folks--the applications sort of assume that you know things like how to read the "log files" and what it is that they're logging, whether to use local time or UTC for the weather time zone (???), your preferred sea level calculation method (?!?!?), whether you want to display scalar data on a timeline (!!!!!), the smtp host for your push service (is that something to do with a Blackberry?), your TCP/IP/VP COM Port, and how to perform protocol logging (and now we've just slipped into utter gibberish).

I'm sure you don't mean to be rude but couldn't help wondering how the hell I navigated all of this techspeak. It turns out, weather nerds are a pretty darn helpful and friendly group. Every time I've emailed Ambient Weather--the folks who sold me the system--they've emailed me back--after work hours--within the hour. Both the MeteoHub & Weather Display folks run forums, and since yesterday evening, I've submitted and received solutions--that work!--for 4 separate problems.

And now--voilà!--our weather underground data and our very own weather page (which has a big annoying banner across it until I fork up the dough for the non-trial version. Given how much the weather station/hub cost me, that's going to be a while. Still, you can admire how I worked in the branding for Abundiflora Plants.) Now, whenever you want to find out what our weather's doing here in Elgin--you can.

You may wonder (and Matt often has) what we need a weather station for. We're not Heathrow airport, fer cripes' sake. In fact, there are several reasons:
  1. We don't have a local weather information source. When we wake up and the grass is damp, we have no way of telling (short of digging a hole) how much water the plants got (if any).
  2. We have no way of knowing whether or not our little patch of earth actually reached freezing--did we just stumble on the world's only cold-hardy basil variety, or was it just that we stayed 0.01 degrees above freezing?
  3. We have no way of knowing how much water we've received across a whole season, and evaluating a plant's performance against that data.
  4. When equipment (like greenhouses) is knocked over or broken in a wind storm, it would useful to know the wind speed and how frequently we can expect to experience similar speeds in the future.
  5. If the temperature drops faster and farther than predicted, we don't have any warning that we need to turn on the greenhouse heater, seal up the doors, etc.
  6. Matt has no way of monitoring and logging the temperature in the greenhouse--information he could use both in preventing freezes and in accommodating plants that need either constant or widely varied temperatures. (We'll be buying an additional sensor for the greenhouse shortly.)
  7. He has no way of monitoring humidity in the greenhouse, which is especially important with cuttings.
  8. He can't track greenhouse conditions remotely--from the study on a chilly night or from work during the day.
  9. I've become a weather-obsessive. I see rain clouds form--did they actually fall on our property? They were predicting 80% chance of rain--did any of that come my way, or did it all go to Coupland? It's up to 80F today at work--but what's happening back at home, where we left the door to the misthouse closed?
  10. It's a (modest) way to drive traffic to Matt's website, once his web business is up and running. The wunderground page includes a link to the homepage of our choice, and the Weather Display Live data is (a) hosted on Matt's business domain and (b) branded with his logo. Later, when he's ready for it, I'll be adding more links to and from the weather page, so that it will be part of a large set of plant information pages for Central Texas that will lead back to his home page.
The anemometer's been having an exciting day--wind gusts up to 12mph! But the rain gauge... I can't remember if I posted a link to this map or not. You may remember a few weeks ago I showed you NOAA's seasonal drought forecast map, with central Texas's Jan-Mar forecast looking sere and crispy. The same page also links to NOAA's weekly drought monitor. The festering sore in the middle of Texas? That's where we live. Not "Severe," not "Extreme," but "Exceptional" drought. Which sounds nice--you want your parents to think you're an exceptional child, right? But NOAA uses the word to mean "Your weather's gone supernova. Have you considered a nice rock garden?"

But let's end on a happy thought. Here's another picture of our lovely new weather station:

The anemometer and wind direction sensor, looking somehow spunky and heroic in the January sun.


Anonymous said...

What happened to your Weather Underground station?

Have you decided not to use that?

Just wondered?

Thanks for the nice write up.

Anonymous said...

Please ignore my last - I see that Wunderground data is back again now!

Elgin_house said...

Actually, I've run into difficulties on the software end and haven't girded up my loins to try and fix it. System is working fine, but it won't report out to Meteohub or the internet anymore. Wunderground's Elgin data comes from someone else, a good 15 minutes away.

I keep planning to whip the weather station in to shape, but I kind of dread the process...

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