Weather junkies are a demanding breed, their phones and computers bedazzled with services that outline precipitation levels, high and low temperatures, and exactly how windy it’s about to get. Their hunger for data and forecasts is seemingly unceasing; the more localized that information is, the better. And it doesn’t get much more local than your very own home weather station.
The home weather station isn’t a new idea, but recent models have become considerably more feature-stuffed compared to what you might have seen even just a few years ago. We hiked up our galoshes and put four current, wireless weather station products to the test to see which gave us the best inside line on whether you’ll weather the weather.
Do You Need a Home Weather Station?
If a glance out the window—or at a smartphone notification—tells you all you need to know about the conditions outside, you probably don’t need to drop a couple of hundred dollars on a dedicated, information-dense, digital weatherman for your home.
There’s a lot to be said, though, for taking a more granular look at what’s on your own personal horizon. The best home weather stations offer real-time insight into everything from wind speed and expected rainfall to solar radiation and UV levels. They offer obvious practical applications for gardening and other outdoor activities, but also the assurance that your read on the weather will be more accurate, more truly specific to you, than whatever the local news is selling.
The home weather stations we tested are ordered below from least to most complex, since there’s a wide range of options available depending on just how much information you want coming in—and how much money and time you want going out.
Testing Home Weather Stations
The Netatmo Weather Station ($179; RATING: 7) is unique in this roundup in that it comprises merely two slim, metallic sensor tubes and nothing else. One goes outside, one stays in, and that’s all there is to it. They talk to your home network via Wi-Fi, and you use an iOS, Android, Windows Phone, or web-based app instead of a dedicated display console.
NetatmoSetup involves a one-time USB connection to your computer, but once you’ve installed batteries and configured your location and wireless settings, your work is largely done. Mounting the outdoor hardware (which has to be in the shade) amounts to drilling a single screw into a wall—quite refreshing given the complexities more traditional stations involve.
Out of the box, Netatmo reports indoor and outdoor temperature, indoor and outdoor humidity, and air pressure. Uniquely, it also measures both indoor and outdoor air quality (through a measurement of ppm of CO2) and indoor noise level. All of this is tracked over time and can be graphed visually through the Netatmo app. Additional indoor modules (up to three per station are supported, $79 each) and a rain gauge ($79) can also be added to the system. Otherwise, Netatmo relies on public weather feeds to report on rain conditions as well as wind and UV. You also have the option to add your sensor to Netatmo’s public database and compare your own weather conditions with those of neighbors on a map-based display included with the app.
The Netatmo is a nifty little system, but it is indeed “little.” It just isn’t a serious contender for a do-it-all weather system, and the lack of any wind data, even as an add-on option, will be a deal breaker for weather nerds. It would be nice to be able to measure local UV as an option, too. (Oddly, Netatmo does sell a Fitbit-like bracelet called June that measures UV conditions, but there’s nothing like it for the weather station.)
On the other hand, Netatmo is so easy to use that I find myself referring to it frequently to see what the temperature is and has been—even if I’m not at home—and its charts and graphs are fun to analyze in a ridiculously OCD way.
Offering a little more insight for a little less cash, the AcuRite Pro 5-in-1 Weather Station (model 01036) ($170, RATING: 4) is one of the simpler weather station devices on the market. The outdoor sensor arrives fully assembled; just add batteries and mount the sensor on a pole. It records five basics: rainfall, wind speed and direction, outdoor temperature, and humidity.
This information is relayed via RF to the second piece of the system, the “color display” unit, which is powered by an AC adapter with optional battery backup. “Color” is a bit of an exaggeration here. The display itself is actually just a monochrome LCD that’s been outfitted with a color overlay. It’s quite difficult to read if you’re not looking at it from the right angle—and head-on doesn’t seem to be one of them.
Visibility isn’t the only problem. The display’s layout is not altogether intuitive, nor is it easy to work with. Navigation requires very stiff buttons on the base of the system, and you have to struggle with them to configure anything—alarms for extreme heat or storms, say—beyond the most basic settings.
The AcuRite Pro features a USB connection that you can use to transmit weather data to a PC or to the web (including popular weather-tracking service Weather Underground). With this set-up you can also install AcuRite’s mobile app on your iOS or Android device, but you won’t get live updates unless the panel remains connected via USB, and the computer to which it’s connected is on and not asleep.
While the core weather station seems to work well, it’s comparably limited in features, even at this price level. The control panel particularly feels flimsy, and is too hampered by connectivity restrictions to merit serious consideration.
The Ambient Weather WS-1001-WiFi Observer ($280, RATING: 8), though, is worth your attention. It arrives with three components. The pole-mounted outdoor sensor takes measurements of temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, rainfall, UV, and solar radiation. A small indoor sensor also measures the inside temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. Finally, there’s the control panel, which has a complex layout that can easily overwhelm a weather newbie.
Setup looks daunting, but the unit comes together fairly quickly. My only hiccup was getting the wind vane to securely attach to the outdoor sensor; it holds on through a tiny hex screw, but I could never get it as stable as I’d like. Three rechargeable batteries power the outdoor array, which also gets a boost from the integrated solar panel. (Ambient says the batteries will still have to be replaced around every 18 months, so you’ll want to make sure they’re accessible when you situate the device.) Unusually, Ambient uses two wireless systems: the sensors communicate with the panel via RF, while the panel connects to your home network via Wi-Fi.
Setting up the Ambient control panel likewise takes some effort. It’s not a touchscreen, so everything has to be set via the chunky buttons at the base. It’s also the only panel in this roundup that doesn’t offer a battery power option, even as backup; it’s strictly wall-power. The downside of this is that if you unplug the unit, you’ll wipe the system’s memory, though you can export data through the integrated micro SD card slot on demand (card not included).
The Ambient control panel may look busy, but it becomes more intuitive after you spend some time with its iconography. The upside of such a packed homescreen is that everything you need is right there, no digging around required. And its inclusion of a dynamic, color graph of your choice of historical temperature, humidity, or pressure is a neat touch that makes it easier to understand trends and patterns.
Ambient is well-integrated with Weather Underground, and it’s easy to set up the unit as a public weather station through its website. Once you do, you can use the Weather Underground mobile app to turn your phone or tablet into a mobile control panel, but you won’t have as much detail available as the dedicated panel provides.
Ultimately I found working with the Ambient a pleasure, and the depth and breadth of its data is second to none. (You won’t find a UV sensor built into any of the other stations reviewed here.) The bottom line: If you need to know absolutely everything about your local weather conditions at a glance, this is the station for you.
The Oregon Scientific WMR200A Professional Weather Center ($350, RATING: 7) is the most expensive home weather station we tested, and arrives in so many pieces you might feel the need to set aside a whole weekend to get it put together. This turns out to be both a good and a bad thing. Its more modular approach to weather measurement means you have freedom to put various components in different places. But it can also make both setup and maintenance a bear, as each component has requires its own power source. The WMR200A also has the least helpful manual of any system we tested, unfortunate because it’s the most complex system.
Out of the box the unit reports temperature (indoor and outdoor), humidity, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, and rainfall, all via RF connections. You can add a UV sensor for an extra $60, a decently pricey add-on to an already expensive offering.
Once you get past all of the pain of getting the WMR200A to actually work, using its control panel is a relative joy. No chunky buttons here. This is a full-on monochrome touchscreen, powered by AC and including a battery backup. A backlight illuminates your weather with a single tap, though it invariably shuts off too quickly.
As for performance, the Oregon unit featured the most sensitive and accurate wind measurements in my testing, but not without hiccups. It tended to report overly hot temperature readings, sometimes by as much as four or five degrees. On a recent, beautifully sunny day, the unit was inexplicably forecasting rain.
Similar to the AcuRite, the WMR200A offers PC software for downloading and displaying the weather, but again this requires an always-on USB feed to the control panel. There is no web or mobile app component, however, for this model weather station.
Complex to set up and not entirely intuitive in day-to-day use, the Oregon Scientific WMR200A’s expandability features make it a fair choice for hardcore weather nuts—but probably overkill for more casual enthusiasts.