3D Printing Hailstone Molds for Science

Hollywood would have you believe that tornadoes are prevalent in the Midwest. We’re much more likely to see hail in the springtime—balls of slushy ice that pelt our roofs and dimple our cars. [Dr. Ian Giammanco] and his wife and fellow scientist [Tanya Brown-Giammanco] have been studying hail at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s research lab since 2012. In 2013, their team created over 9,000 artificial hailstones and fired them at a mock-up of  a house in the first indoor full-scale hailstorm.

As fun as it sounds to shoot balls of ice at different things, they did it to better understand the humble hailstone and the damage it can do to insurable goods. Those hailstones from a few years ago were created manually by injecting molds and freezing them. Recently, [the Giammancos] and  have taken a more advanced approach to creating artificial hail so they can study the physical characteristics. They scan actual hailstones in order to create models of them. Then they make a 3D-printed mold and use it in a hail-making machine that uses diffused carbon dioxide to mimic the layering that occurs when natural hailstones are formed.

While it would be nice to be able to control hail, the next best thing is mitigating the damage it causes. The better that scientists understand hail, the better materials will become that can withstand its impact. Perhaps someone can perfect a shape-shifting building material and make it resistant to hail.

What’s The Weather Like For The Next Six Hours?

The magic glowing orb that tells the future has been a popular thing to make ever since we realized we had the technology to bring it out of the fortune teller’s tent. We really like [jarek319]’s interpretation of the concept.

Sitting mystically above his umbrella stand, with a single black cord providing the needed pixies for fortune telling, a white cube plays an animation simulating the weather outside for the next six hours. If he sees falling drops, he knows to grab an umbrella before leaving the house. If he sees a thunderstorm, he knows to get the umbrella with the fiberglass core in order to prevent an intimate repeat of Mr. Franklin’s early work.
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Slim and Classy Word Clock Shows the Weather Too

Word clocks are a neat twist on traditional timepiece user interfaces. Spelling out the time with words and phrases rather than numerals fancies up a clock nicely. And if you add the current weather and forecast to the display, you get this attractive and handy word-based time and weather display.

For this clock, one of the many custom builds on [GMG]’s site that betray a certain passion for unusual timepieces, an 8×32 array of Neopixels lives behind a laser-cut sheet of steam-bent birch plywood. Each pixel is masked by either an alphanumeric character or an icon representing weather conditions. An ESP8266 fetches time and weather data and drives the display serially, controlling the color of each cell and building up the display. The video below shows the clock doing its thing.

Sure, we’ve featured plenty of word clocks before, even some with weather display, but we like the slim and understated design of this build. We’re particularly impressed by the lengths [GMG] took in packing as much capability into the 256-pixel display as possible, like the way “today” and “tomorrow” overlap. And if you’ve got an eye for detail, you might spot what gets displayed when it’s over 80° and 80% relative humidity.

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Solar-powered Weather Station Knows Which Way The Wind Blows

Bob Dylan may not have needed a weatherman to tell him when the wind blows, but the rest of us rely on weather forecasts. These, in turn, rely on data from weather stations, and [Vlad] decided that his old weather station was in need of an upgrade.

His station, which uploads live data to the Weather Underground, needed to be solar-powered, weather-proof and easy to install. He seems to have succeed admirably with this upgrade, which is built around an ATmega328 and the 433 MHz link from the old station. As part of the upgrade, he built a 3D-printed enclosure and installed all-new sensors on a home-made PCB that are more accurate than the old ones.

He looked into upgrading the wireless leg to WiFi, but found that the school’s WiFi had a login page that he couldn’t get around. So he re-used the old 433 MHz radio and connected the other end of the link to an old laptop on the wired network. Good enough, we say. Now how about a snazzy display to go along with it?

Another Use for Old Hard Drive Parts: Anemometer

So you’ve just taken apart a hard drive, and you’re looking at all the pieces on your desktop. You’re somehow compelled to use them all in different projects. Why not pull out that very high quality bearing that keeps the platters spinning at high RPMs and build this simple anemometer with it? That’s what [Sergei Bezrukov] did, and it looks like a perfect el cheapo project.

The build is fairly low-tech and entirely sufficient. The cups are made from plastic containers that used to contain pantyhose. A Hall-effect sensor and a magnet take care of measuring the rotations, feeding its signal into a PIC that calculates the wind speed from the revolution rate. The rest of the housing is PVC, with some other miscellaneous parts found at the hardware store.

To calibrate the device, [Sergei] made a second hand-held unit that he could (presumably) drive around in a car to get a baseline wind speed, and then note down the revolution rate. Once you’ve got a good reference, holding the portable unit up to the permanent one transfers the calibration.

But the star of the show, that lets the anemometer spin effortlessly, is the sweet bearing that used to spin a hard-drive platter. If you haven’t played with one of these bearings before, you absolutely should. We just ran a post on taking apart a hard drive for its spare-parts goodness so you have no excuse. If you’re feeling goofy, you can mount one onto a board, step on it with the ball of your foot, and spin. They’re quality bearings, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can spin as you pull your arms in.

Thank [Matt] for the tip!

Old School Gauges Let You Know Which Way the Wind Blows

When your passion is a sport that depends on Mother Nature’s cooperation, you need to keep a close eye on weather conditions. With this in mind, and not one to let work distract him from an opportunity to play, [mechanicalsquid] decided to build a wind-monitoring gauge with an old-school look to let him know when the wind is right for kitesurfing.

old-school-meter-for-windBeing an aficionado of big engineering helped [mechanicalsquid] come up with a style for his gauge – big old dials and meters. We hesitate to apply the “steampunk” label to every project that retasks old technology, but it sure looks like a couple of the gauges he used could have been for steam, so the moniker probably fits here. Weather data for favorite kitesurfing and windsurfing locales is scraped from the web and applied to the gauges to indicates wind speed and direction. [mechanicalsquid] made a valiant effort to drive the voltmeter coil directly from the Raspberry Pi, but it was not to be. Servos proved inaccurate, so steppers do the job of moving the needles on both gauges. Check out the nicely detailed build log for this one, too.

For more weather station fun be sure to check out this meter-based weather station with a slightly more modern look. And for another build in the steampunk style, this vintage meter and Nixie power display is sure to impress.

Parts bin Emergency Lights Deal with Tornado’s Aftermath

Sometimes having a deep inventory of parts in your shop is a pain – the clutter, the dust, the things you can’t rationally justify keeping but still can’t bear to part with. But sometimes the parts bin delivers and lets you cobble together some emergency lighting when a tornado knocks out your power.

It has been hard to avoid discussions of the weird weather in the US this winter. The eastern half of the country has had record warm temperatures, the west has been lashed by storms, and now December tornadoes have ripped through Texas and other parts of the south, with terrible loss of life and wide-ranging property damage. [TheTimmy] was close enough to one massive EF4 tornado to lose power on Saturday night, and after the charm of a candlelight Christmas evening wore off, he headed to the shop. He had a bunch of sealed lead acid batteries from old UPSs and a tangle of 12V LED modules, and with the help of some elastic bands and jumper clips he wired up a bunch of lights for around the house. Safer than candles by a long shot, and more omnidirectional than flashlights to boot.

The power came back before the batteries ran out of juice, so we don’t get to see any hacks for recharging batteries in a grid-down scenario. Still, it’s good to see how a deep parts bin and good mindset can make a positive impact on an uncomfortable situation. We’ve seen similar hacks before, like this hacked cordless tool battery pack or powering a TV with 18650 batteries. Be sure to share your story of epic power-outage hacks in the comments below.