Friday, October 26, 2012

Tracking the Weather and Hurricane Sandy with Citizen Science - Part I

Let's talk about the weather.

Photo Courtesy: Ambient Weather
I've been planning to plunge into citizen science weather projects but was pulled aside while writing about other important topics (such as encouraging donations to Smithsonian citizen science projects).  But with the approach of Hurricane Sandy (aka "Frankenstorm!") this seemed like the perfect time to start.  As a blogger in Washington DC we are right in the storm's bulls-eye and a great opportunity to gather interesting weather readings and show what the equipment station can really do.  And frankly it seemed fun too!

My goal is to better understand the climate in my local area and how it relates to the many nature projects I'm also working in.  As you've seen in this blog there are a huge number of nature-based citizen science projects and I've been participating in many of them.  Over the last year information about all the plants and animals in my backyard is available to researchers studying those species and the environment.  So if I can add detailed climate information to this data there may be many additional discoveries that can be made.

I'm also very interested in meteorology as a thriving arena for citizen science.  I have not written much about it but there is a long tradition of everyday people providing weather data to professional forecasters.  Not everything can be recorded at government science stations and much must come from widely dispersed people from all corners of the country.  In addition, many people have begun sharing and using this data for their own weather studies outside of "official" channels.  Much of it even exceeds forecasts from government sources.  So it's an area long-deserving attention from this blog.

The only way to understand this field is to actually join in, and the first step is purchasing my very own personal weather station.  So let's get started.  When reviewing equipment options I had a few simple requirements.
  1. Affordable price.  It had to be under $200 and preferably closer to $100.  There are many good-quality weather stations for home use that are more expensive ($300 and up) but that didn't seem appropriate for the everyday person just getting started with weather-based citizen science.
  2. Scientifically reliable results: There are many consumer grade weather stations available at reasonable prices, but these seem mainly for personal entertainment and can't be used by professional researchers. I wanted this data to be meaningful and have the potential to advance true meteorological research.
  3. Measures all important weather conditions.  Nearly all provide temperature with rainfall and barometric pressure also being quite common.  But wind speed also seemed important, especially if I want to provide meaningful research data.
  4. Wireless capability.  I can't afford a dedicated computer for this experiment and I can't run wires outside for it.  So some wireless capability was needed.
  5. Widely available:  My blog reaches a national (and dare I say it international) audience so any option should be available to the greatest number of potential readers.
After much research I finally chose the Ambient Weather WS-500 Wireless Home Weather Station.  Priced at $114.00 through (now on sale for $69.99!!) it was well within my budget.  This model has been very popular and supplies have run low at times, but I was lucky enough to get one recently.  It is a stand-alone unit with wireless transmission/recording that collects rainfall, temperature, wind speed, wind direction, and barometric pressure data.  It is also compatible with various data protocols used by various weather amateur and professional weather networks (more about this in a future post).  The only draw-back was from many reviewers commenting that an extra temperature and solar radiation shield is required to give the most accurate readings.  While sold separately it was a bit expensive, but the total price of both the station and was still under $160 (at the time) and met my pricing criteria.

In just a few short days it arrived on my doorstep.  It was a small box inside a much larger box, but much was packed into it.  But was it simple to set up?  What does it look like?  All that it tomorrow's post!  So join me on Saturday as we set everything up and prepare for the big storm.

In the meantime I highly recommend following the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang for continuous updates on the storm.  I follow this group closely not only for their highly local coverage and breaking news update, but because they have been strong supporters of meteorological citizen science and include much information from highly-informed, hard-working amateurs who provide a fresh perspective on the weather.  Not only it's local impact, but the hows and whys written in a way that's accessible to professionals and lay-people alike.  So if you don't follow them already this storm is the perfect chance to get acquainted!



  1. A day on the water is a calculated risk, you need to check the weather before you leave the dock, the mooring or the trailer. Foul weather is predictable, especially if you use the proper tools to ensure you and your passenger's safety. Owen

  2. How to write temperature in degrees is a very important thing to learn so that people can infer weather reports quite easily and also can forecast reports by themselves. gadgets and instrument to measure wind speed can be their helpful instrument in this.

  3. Why however do some lawyers go so far as to try and decline to permit their customers the chance to acquire a claim advance? Lawyer's talked with say they "fear losing control of their case". How could a claim credit cause the lawyer to free control of a caseCash Advance