Are you a fair weather RVer that likes to get out on the open road? Or a boondocker that loves to brave the elements no matter the weather conditions? Or are you somewhere in the middle? Either way, adding a personal weather station (PWS) to your RV is something every RVer should at least consider. Even if it’s just a indoor/outdoor thermometer, you can still say, “Yeah, I’ve done the weather station mod.”
Weather stations come in all shapes and sized, from mild to wild. The classic is the simple wired indoor/outdoor thermometer, usually having a display for both temperatures, and a stick-on temperature probe you place somewhere outside. These also come in a wireless model as well, which allows for placement of the temperature sensor practically anywhere in or on you RV. This works for most RVers but if you’re a hardcore weather junkie that has to know the wind chill to the second, you need to do the mod with a full blown semi-professional (or professional if you can afford it) weather station.
Even though there are fewer choices for complete weather measurements, you should definitely go with a wireless system for an RV. This makes installation very easy and if you opt for a semi-permanent installation, it makes it much easier to both locate and mount the various instruments, as well as stow them, like the anemometer, for travel. Most of the instruments can be permanently mounted, but the anemometer, the instrument that measures wind speed, is generally mounted on a mast or pole, above the level of the RVs roof. If it sticks up higher than your A/C unit’s cover, then you shouldn’t travel down the road with it deployed. A bridge or tree is a great candidate to clean the mount right off the roof, along with your instrument. More on mounting instruments later.
To select the right system for your RV, there are a lot of questions that have to be asked and answered. If you’re a weather junkie, then these should be easy. If not, see the resources section below about general weather station criteria. So let’s start with:
How easy it the system to setup? Are the instruments installed separately or are they all in one convenient package? Can the anemometer be mounted separately? Do the instruments require batteries or do they have their own separate solar chargers?
What is the maximum transmission distance? This is a two-part question. How far can the weather station instruments transmit their information and how far away will you be placing your instruments from the station’s display? Chances are the instruments will be placed within tens of feet of the base but you want to ensure the instruments have the longest transmission range possible. This helps to ensure that if you are in an area with high radio frequency (RF) interference, your instruments will stand a chance of their signals making it to the base display.
What weather variables are measured and recorded? Most weather stations offer barometric pressure, outside humidity and dew point, daily and yearly rainfall, wind speed and direction, wind chill, and outside temperature. Some also offer inside temperature and humidity, and a few even give you extra outside temperature readings and current rain rate. You may also consider if you want to measure apparent temperature (heat index), solar radiation, and UV radiation as well. Some of the higher-end systems can provide this information but at an additional cost of course.
How many highs and lows are measured and recorded? Most other stations give you the current readings along with highs and lows for some measurements. Look for a weather station that gives you the highs and lows (and/or totals or average readings) for as many available weather conditions you need. Even better is if the station can provide data for the last 24 days (with time of day), or months (with date), or even years. You should also be able to instantaneously see at least some of these readings on the display with the press of a button. This is important if you plan to track and publish your station’s data.
How often is the information updated? The top-level pro stations can send a data packet to the display as fast as every 2Â½ seconds. Look for a station that has fast transmission intervals, especially for weather conditions that are the most variable, such as wind speed and direction. Other instrument updates can happen at a slower interval such as every 10 seconds. Avoid stations with update intervals greater than 30 seconds. This may not seem like something to consider, but try watching the wind gust, or the rain suddenly come pouring down. It would be very disconcerting to be looking out the window of your RV, seeing something happening weather-wise, and not see it reflected on the display for what seems like an eternity.
Can you use the station at higher elevations? Top-notch stations can be used up to 12,000 feet in elevation. But some are limited to 6,000 feet or below. As an RVer or boondocker, this is an important consideration as your travels will most certainly take you above 6,000 feet. Be sure to check this often overlooked factor.
How is the forecast generated? Most stations generally bases their forecasts strictly on whether barometric pressure is rising or falling. This results in none too accurate a prediction. A professional system will use a sophisticated forecasting algorithm which will take into account not only barometric pressure, but also wind, rainfall, temperature, humidity, and longitude and latitude. The result? A much more accurate forecast. This is a must for an RVer as it can help you with your getaway plan if the weather is predicted to turn bad.
How is the forecast displayed? Generally, the forecast is displayed using small icons, like a sun for sunny skies, or a cloud for cloudy conditions. This will work just fine for most forcasting needs but some stations offer a variety of single-key forecast information, such a s the last 10-minute average wind speed. If this is important to you, you will probably be looking at higher dollar units.
How much data can you graph on the screen? Professional stations allow you to graph on the display just about every weather variable, with averages and highs and lows for most, and the ability to go back in time for minutes, days, months, and even years. If this is not important to you, mid-level stations will typically graph just one variable, barometric pressure, and typically just for the last 24 hours. But the true weather junkie will want to do a lot of analysis. If you don’t opt for a the station manufacturer’s software package, look for stations that give you the most on-screen graphing. You’ll find that the more dramatic the weather is, the more fun it is to look at the graphs. Just how windy is it, and how does it compare to the last windstorm? And how much rain did we get this month, as compared to last month?
What is the computer interface like? If you want to do even more analysis, you can add a data logger and software package. The data logger stores data at the interval you choose (usually from one minute to two hours) for up to six months or more. You can transfer the data whenever you like, or leave your computer on to have it automatically transfer every day. The data logger uses non-volatile memory, so you won’t lose the data even if you lose power. Most stations offer a software package, but some don’t include a data logger. This means that your computer must be on and the software running at all times in order to store weather data. Data loggers aren’t cheap but they are sure worth it if you need to log data without a computer.
How many alarms are there? Look for alarms that can be set on as many weather variables as possible. Like the graphs, you might not need all the alarms all the time, but they are fun to set up and wait for them to go off (only weather junkies understand this!). Besides the fun, in practicality, using an alarm for say a 20 mph wind gust could potentially save your awning from being destroyed.
And finally, what is the accuracy, resolution, and range? Some weather stations claim a high degree of accuracy in their instrument rating while in real use they vary wildly. Look for an accuracy of +/-1% or lower. This ensures that if small changes in say rainfall occur, the reading isn’t skewed by the margin of error. Also look for appropriate ranges of measurement such as with temperature and pressure. Hopefully you will never encounter any weather at any of the extreme ends of the station’s range, but you never know. And you don’t want to miss out on that if it does happen, right?
So now you’ve made your decision based on all the questions above. What’s next? Mounting the instruments. An RV poses somewhat of a challenge for this in that it’s not usually in the same place for too long. This means that where you might optimally and permanently mount instruments for say a residential weather station, the same would not hold true for an RV. If you opted for an all in one station, one where all the instruments are clustered together in a single package, it will make it very easy to mount to a mast or pole. This pole in turn can be mounted to a semi-permanent mount on the roof or roof ladder. If you mount the mast to the roof, either make sure it can be removed for travel, or stowed in the layed down position.
If you have chosen a station with separate instruments, you will still have to mount the anemometer on some sort of mast that can place the instrument as high above the roof as possible. Six feet would be optimal as this will help provide more accurate wind measurements if there are obstructions, like trees, nearby. The other instruments can be mounted almost anywhere on your RV. But you need to be sure that the temperature gauge is not mounted in direct sunlight. If you have no other choice, you will have to shield the temperature instrument with a solar shield, available from the instrument manufacturer. This is a must for accurate readings.
The rain gauge should be roof-mounted, as level as possible, and away from obstructions. This is to ensure the cup can be in direct line with the rainfall. All other instruments, such as the barometer, can be mounted just about anywhere, with a temporary mount using Velcro, or a permanent mount using screws and mounting brackets. The choice is yours.
Once you have everything mounted correctly, you will need to ensure connectivity of your instruments as well as calibrate them. Follow the instructions for this in the manual you received with your station. All stations are a little different in how they do this so we won’t outline it here.
Finally, once you have everything going, you can begin to publish your weather data to the Internet if you want, letting all your friends and family know just what’s happening weather-wise where your camping. Software is generally available for mid to upper-end systems that does all of this for you. You just connect your station to your computer and it does the rest. Many RVers already do this and many would just love to hear from you about how your doing it. Check the resources below for websites that host PWS data.
ModMyRV recommends these parts for this mod:
Vantage Vue Wireless Weather Station
Davis 6152 Vantage Pro-2 Wireless Weather Station with Standard Radiation Shield
Personal Weather Station Hosts
Register your weather station at wunderground.com
Wiki on personal weather station information