Lights Out in Québec: The 1989 Geomagnetic Storm

I found myself staring up at the sky on the night of March 13, 1989, with my girlfriend and her parents in the backyard of their house. The sky was on fire, almost literally. Red and pink sheets of plasma streamed out in a circle from directly overhead, with blue-white streaks like xenon flashes occasionally strobing across the sky. We could actually hear a sizzling, crackling sound around us. The four of us stood there, awestruck by the aurora borealis we were lucky enough to witness.

At the same time, lights were winking out a couple of hundred miles north in Québec province. The same solar storm that was mesmerizing me was causing fits for Hydro-Québec, the provincial power authority, tripping circuit breakers and wreaking havoc. This certainly wasn’t the first time the Sun threw a fit and broke systems on Earth, but it was pretty dramatic, and there are some lessons to be learned from it and other solar outbursts.

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Stephen Hawking Forecasts The Weather

Stephen Hawking, although unable to speak himself, is immediately recognizable by his voice which is provided through a computer and a voice emulator. What may come as a surprise to some is that this voice emulator, the Emic2, has been used by many people, and is still around today and available for whatever text-to-speech projects you are working on. As a great example of this, [TegwynTwmffat] has built a weather forecasting station using an Emic2 voice module to provide audible weather alerts.

Besides the unique voice, the weather center is a high quality build on its own. An Arduino Mega 2560 equipped with a GPRS module is able to pull weather information once an hour. After the voice module was constructed (which seems like a project in itself) its relatively straightforward to pass the information from the Arduino over to the module and have it start announcing the weather. It can even be programmed to sing the weather to you!

All of the code that [TegwynTwmffat] used to build this is available on the project site if you’re curious about building your own Emic2 voice system. It’s also worth noting that GPRS is available to pretty much anyone and is a relatively simple system to start using to do things like pull weather information from, but you could also use it to roll out your own private cell phone network with the right equipment and licensing.

See the Weather at a Glance with this WiFi Wall Mounted Display

Whether you’re lodged in an apartment with a poor view of the sky like [Becky Stern] or are looking for an at-a-glance report of the current weather, you might consider this minimalist weather display instead of checking your computer or your phone every time you’re headed out the door.

The first order of business was to set up her Feather Huzzah ESP8266 module. [Becky] started with a blink test to ensure it was working properly. Once that was out of the way, she moved on to installing a few libraries. Temperature data fetched by an IFTTT feed is displayed on a seven-segment display, while additional feeds separately retrieve information for each basic weather type: sunny, overcast, rain, snow.

All it took to create the sleek display effect was a few pieces of cardboard inside a shadow box frame, a sheet of paper as a diffuser, and twelve Neopixel RGB LEDs hidden inside. Trimming and securing everything in place as well as notching out the back of the frame for the power cable finished the assembly. Check out the build video after the break.

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Old Motor Donates Rotor for Coaxial Wind Vane and Anemometer

Problem: build a combined anemometer and wind vane where the pivots for both sensors are coaxial. Solution: turn an old universal motor into a step-wise potentiometer for the wind vane, and then pull a few tricks to get the whole thing assembled.

commutatior-with-series-resistorsWe have to admit that when we first saw [Ajoy Raman]’s Instructables post, we figured that he used a universal motor to generate a voltage from the anemometer. But [Ajoy]’s solution to the coaxial shafts problem is far more interesting than that. A discarded universal motor donated its rotor and bearings. The windings were stripped off the assembly leaving nothing but the commutator. 1kΩ SMD resistors were soldered across adjacent commutator sections to form a series resistance of 22kΩ with taps every 1k, allowing 0 to 2.2V to be read to the ADC of a microcontroller depending on the angle of the vane.

As clever as that is, [Ajoy] still had to pull off the coaxial part, which he did by drilling out the old motor shaft from one end to the other using just a drill press. The anemometer shaft passes through the hole in the shaft and turns a small DC motor to sense wind speed.

There might have been other ways to accomplish this, but given the constraints and the low cost of this solution, our hats are off to [Ajoy]. We’re a little concerned with that motor used for the anemometer, though. It could result in drag when used as a generator. Maybe a better solution would be a Hall-effect sensor to count rotations of a hard drive rotor.

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Comfort Thermometer With Impressive LED Display

A frequent early project for someone learning to use a microcontroller such as an Arduino board involves hooking up a temperature sensor and an LCD display to make a digital thermometer. Not many components are involved, but it provides a handy practical introduction to interfacing peripherals. Once you’ve passed that step in your tech education, do you ever return to thermometers? Probably not, after all what can you add to a thermometer but a sensor and a display?

Perhaps if you have asked yourself that question you might be interested in [Richard Stevens]’s thermometer project, as he refers to it, a Comfort Thermometer Display. It takes the form of an Ikea Ribba frame inset with 517 LEDs arranged as a central set of seven segment displays, a ring of bar graphs, and an outer ring of RGB LEDs. Behind the scenes is a mass of cabling, and four shaped pieces of stripboard to fit the area around the LEDs. The display cycles through readings for temperature, heat index, and humidity.

Powering it all are a brace of microcontrollers: an ATMega328 for the 7-segments and a range of PICs controlling the bar graphs and RGB LEDs. Another PIC handles RF communication with the sensors, which are housed in a remote box. We’ve embedded the video of the device in operation below the break, and we’re sure you’ll agree it’s an impressive piece of work.

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Exquisitely Crafted Nixie Tube Weatherclock

The Weatherclock is more than just a clock sporting Nixie tubes and neon lamps. There is even more to it than the wonderful workmanship and the big, beautiful pictures in the build log. [Bradley]’s Weatherclock is not only internet-connected, it automatically looks up local weather and sets the backlights of the numbers to reflect current weather conditions. For example, green for roughly room temperature, blue for cold, red for warm, flashing blue for rain, flashing white for lightning, scrolling white for fog and ice, and so on.

neonixieclock_02The enclosure is custom-made and the sockets for the tubes are seated in a laser-cut plastic frame. While seating the sockets, [Bradley] noticed that an Adafruit Neopixel RGB LED breakout board fit perfectly between the tube leads. By seating one Neopixel behind each Nixie indicator, each number could have a programmable backlight that just happened to look fabulous.

Witpreboxh an Electric Imp board used for WiFi the capabilities of the Weatherclock were rounded out on the inside. On the outside, a custom enclosure ties it all together. [Bradley] says his family had gotten so used to having the Weatherclock show them the outside conditions that they really missed it when it was down for maintenance or work – which shouldn’t happen much anymore as the project is pretty much complete.

It’s interesting to see new features in Nixie clocks. Nixie tubes have such enduring appeal that using them alone has its own charm, and at least one dedicated craftsman actually makes new ones from scratch.

Better Tornado Warnings with Polygons and Pi

Everyone pays close attention to the weather, but for those who live where tornadoes are prevalent, watching the sky can be a matter of life and death. When the difference between making it to a shelter or getting caught in the open can be a matter of seconds, it might make sense to build an internet enabled Raspberry Pi weather alert system.

We know what you’re thinking – why not just buy an off-the-shelf weather alert radio with Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME) reporting, or just rely on a smartphone app? As [Jim Scarborough] explains, living in the heart of Tornado Alley and having had a brush with tragedy as a kid teaches you not to be complacent with severe weather. He found a problem with the SAME system: lack of locational granularity below the county level, leading to a tendency to over-warn during tornado season. [Jim]’s build seeks to improve SAME by integrating National Weather Service polygon warnings, which define an area likely to see a severe weather event as a collection of geographic vertices rather than a political unit. He’s using a Raspberry Pi NOAA weather radio receiver with SAME decoding, and while details are sparse and the project is ongoing, the idea seems to be to use the Pi to scrape the NWS site for polygon data once a county-level warning is issued.

It’s an interesting idea, and one we’ll be keeping an eye on as [Jim] continues his build. In the meantime, you can brush up on weather radio and SAME encoding with this Arduino SAME decoder.

[via r/weather]