Once citizen scientists set up their own laboratories and observatories and conducted field observations, collecting essential data that advanced science of the time. Even today, it’s still possible for you to help collect essential scientific data right in your own backyard. Become part of one of the largest data collection operations going. Set up a backyard weather station. In partnership with government weather agencies or even your local television station, you can collect essential data about weather that may one day help improve weather forecasting and even save lives.
- Skill level:
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Things you need
- A wind vane (wireless recording)
- Anemometers (wireless recording)
- Nephoscopes (manual recording of cloud altitude, direction and velocity)
- Barometers (wireless recording)
- Rain gauge (wireless recording, self-emptying)
- Snow gauge (wireless recording, self-emptying)
- Hygrometers (humidity and relative humidity–wireless recording)
- Recording thermometer
- Log book
- Stevenson box
- 4 bags of concrete
- Wheelbarrow and hoe
- Water hose
- Post hole diggers
- 5 foot 6 inch long post
- 4 foot long post
- 4 painted plywood panels, 4 feet by 4 feet square
- 1 foot long steel posts, 6
- Post drivers
- 23 to 36 foot long mast (36 feet optimal)
- 4 foot steel pipe large enough for the base of the mast to fit inside.
- Guy wire, 200 feet
- 3 boat hooks
- 3 steel ground stakes, 3 feet long
- Drill and bits
- Pound of 3-1/2 inch galvanised screws
- Weather software
Assemble the Stevenson box (also called a Stevenson screen) according to instructions. The box can be purchased prebuilt, precut or can be home-fabricated using a variety of online plans. The Stevenson box was invented by the father of author Robert Louis Stevenson. It is an enclosed louvered or vented box with a door on one side that is designed to be mounted on a pole and to shelter weather instruments that need to be out of the rain, wind and direct sun (thermometers, barometers and hygrometers).
Select a spot for the station that is level, open and 100 feet from paved areas where the wind and rain are not blocked or deflected. Estimate the height of the nearest tall object. The station should be no closer than four times the height of the nearest obstruction. The Citizen Weather Observers Program (CWOP) advises that the instruments in the Stevenson box should be 4 to 6 feet above the ground and on ground that is typical of the surrounding area. Snow and rain gauges should be mounted low, about 2 feet above the ground in a sheltered area with protection no more than twice the distance from the gauge. The anemometer should be 20 to 33 feet above the ground in an unobstructed area.
Dig a hole 2 feet deep and put the post in it. Mix concrete and pour into the hole, straighten up the post and allow the concrete to set. The top of the post will be 3 feet 6 inches above the ground. Screw the Stevenson box to the top of the post.
Attach mounting brackets for the thermometer, hygrometer and barometers inside the Stevenson box. Mount the instruments and put fresh batteries in them.
Dig a second 2-foot deep hole 8 feet away from the Stevenson box. Insert the 4-foot long pole, mix and pour a bag of concrete, and allow the concrete to sit and cure overnight. Mount brackets for the snow and rain gauges on top of the post. Add fresh batteries and mount the gauges.
Drive pairs of steel posts into the ground two feet apart, two each on the north, south, east and west sides of the rain and snow gauges, 4 feet from the centre post. Screw mount the 4 by 4 foot panels to the steel posts 3 inches above the ground on all four sides.
Dig a third hole, 3 feet deep in the spot selected for the anemometer and wind vane. Insert the steel pipe in the hole, align it vertically and pour two bags of concrete into the hole around it. Allow to sit and cure.
Install batteries in the wind vane and anemometer. Attach brackets to the top of the mast and fit instruments into the brackets. Attach three 60-foot guy wires to the mast two-thirds of the way to the top. Insert the mast into the mounting pipe.
Drive three stakes equidistant around the mast, 30 feet from the mast hole. Attach the guy wires to the stakes with boat hooks, so you can loosen them to lower the mast to change batteries.
Set up the receiver inside, install the software on your computer and connect the receiver to the computer following the instructions. If you don’t use a computer, you can enter the daily data into your logbook. Salem Clock’s website has a downloadable weather record chart.
Tips and warnings
- The best spot for weather stations is on the north side of buildings or building groups and where there is non-obstructive shade for the Stevenson box and the precipitation gauges. The anemometer/wind vane mast can be installed some distance from the rest of the station or on the roof to get unobstructed wind.
- Develop a reminder system to ensure you record the data at the same time every day at least twice a day or set up the software to record at set times daily into its database. If you are working with a television station or government agency, you’ll need to set up an automatic data download to their data collection site. The nephoscope data will be have to be collected by hand and manually entered into the software or logbook.
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