An Electronic Love Letter to the Wind

Home weather stations are a great way for hackers and makers to put their skills to practical use. After all, who wants to hear the current conditions for the whole city when they could setup their own station which drills that information down to their very own street? Such a setup doesn’t need to be any more complex than a temperature sensor wired up to a microcontroller, but then not all of us are quite the weather fanatic that [Richard] clearly is.

The system he’s built to monitor the wind over his home is, to put it mildly, incredible. We might not all share the obsession [Richard] apparently has with the wind, but we can certainly respect the thought and design that went into this comprehensive system. From his scratch built anemometer to the various ways he’s come up with to display the collected environmental data throughout his home, if this build doesn’t inspire you to hack together your own weather station then nothing will.

At the heart of the system is the anemometer itself, which makes use of several scavenged parts such as the bottom halves of plastic Easter eggs as wind cups. The cups spin on a short length of M5 threaded rod inside of a 635ZZ bearing, which ultimately rotates a “light chopper” placed between a red LED and a OPL550A optical sensor. In a particularly nice touch, [Richard] has even included a few power resistors arranged around the moving parts to use as a heater which keeps the device from freezing up when the temperature drops. The sensor creates eight digital pulses per revolution, and feeds data into the base station though a 30 meter (98 feet) cable.

From there, the base station uses an ESP8266 to upload wind and temperature data to ThingSpeak and Weather Underground to be viewed through their respective web interfaces and applications. The project really could have ended here and still been impressive in its own right, but the station also includes 433 MHz and NRF24L01 transmitters to send the data to the other display devices which [Richard] has designed.

The 433 MHZ display is built into the frame of a lantern, and shows the current time and temperature on an LED readout as well as historical wind and temperature graphs on a 2.2 inch ILI9341 TFT screen which [Richard] has rotated into a portrait layout. There’s a red light on top that blinks whenever a signal is received to show that the system is working, and even a touch sensor which can be used to turn off the TFT screen at a tap if you’re not interested in seeing the full charts.

The other display, which [Richard] calls the “picture frame” utilizes a dizzying array of single LEDs, a handful of digital LED readouts, and even an OLED screen for good measure. They all work together to show the current wind speed as well the averages for the past day in three hour segments. As this display features a real time display of current wind conditions and averages for as short a period of two minutes, it uses the NRF24L01 receiver to get data from the base station at a rate of 3 Hz.

In the past we’ve seen 3D printed weather stations, and of course some pretty simple affairs using little more than an ESP8266 board and some sensors. But few have ever put so much thought into how to present the collected data to the user. If you’re serious about knowing what it’s like outside the confines of your bunker, [Richard] has got some tricks to show you.

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The Umbrella That Tells You The Weather

Most people can tell you the various uses of the umbrella — it keeps the rain off, pokes sleeping train passengers awake, and can be used as an improvised defensive weapon when tension in the hot dog line reaches boiling point. A true Englishman would never deign to employ their brolly so imprudently, of course, but they might just give it an upgrade by packing in a full weather station.

Please do not message us to complain about the redundancy of a rain sensor on an umbrella.

The build uses the Particle Photon as the brains of the operation, interfacing it with several sensors. There’s a DHT11 to handle temperature and humidity measurement, an Adafruit barometric pressure sensor, along with a custom-built anemometer using a brushed motor with 3D printed wind cups. Finally, a breadboard is turned into a rain detector, based on the same principles as those used in automotive applications.

 

The Particle Photon uses WiFi to tether to a smartphone, deliver the collected data to the cloud via Adafruit IO. This enables the data to be collated and processed further on a PC. Yes, it’s 2018, and they have the internet on umbrellas now.

As we reach further into the depths of winter, it’s one project that could very much come in handy, and [The Gentlemen Maker] has been kind enough to share the code on Particle.io. If that’s not good enough, perhaps you could use your umbrella as a WiFi antenna. Video after the break.

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Weather Forecasting Clock Makes An Almighty Racket

The old-fashioned alarm clock was a staple of cartoons in years past, with loud clanging bells and slap-to-shutoff functionality. Despite being an excellent dramatic device, these classic timepieces began to lose favor to the digital clock radio, and, in more recent times, the smartphone alarm. However, [LenkaDesign] has come up with this excellent build that combines the best of the old and the new.

The build starts with an old alarm clock. The clockwork internals are removed, but the bells remain, powered instead by a brushed DC motor. An Arduino Nano is the brains of the operation, interfacing with the now-ubiquitous temperature, humidity and barometric pressure sensors. Time is displayed on a Nokia 5110 LCD screen of the type popular a decade ago when options for small hobby project displays were significantly more limited then they are today.

As a nice touch, an old circuit board lends a new face to this clock, with a trio of big chunky buttons to act as controls. The LCD uses attractive icons to help convey information, making the most of the graphical capabilities available. There’s even a rudimentary weather forecasting algorithm that uses barometric pressure changes to predict the likelihood of rain.

Overall, it’s a tidy build that promises to serve as a great alarm clock, given the high volume of the original bells. Alarm clocks have always been a hacker staple, but if you’re still struggling to get out of bed this fire bell build should rattle your fillings loose on a daily basis. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

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A True 3D Printed Weather Station

If the term “3D printed weather station” makes you think of a printed enclosure for off-the-shelf sensors, don’t feel bad. We thought the same thing when we first read the message [Rob Ward] sent in about his latest project. Surely he couldn’t mean that he actually printed all the principal parts of a serious weather station setup, such as the wind vane, anemometer, or rain gauge?

Except, on closer inspection, that’s exactly what he did. Every part of the weather station is designed in OpenSCAD, printed out, and infused with various vitamins to turn them into functional pieces of hardware. Interestingly enough, most of the magic is done with simple reed switches and magnets.

For example, the wind vane uses eight reed switches and an embedded magnet to communicate the current wind direction to the Arduino Uno which handles the user interface. Wind speed, on the other hand, it done with a single reed switch as it just needs to count rotations to calculate speed.

[Rob] did “cheat” by using an off-the-shelf barometric pressure sensor, but we’ll give him a pass for that one. Unless somebody wants to hit the tip line with a design for a printable barometer, we’ll consider this the high water mark in printable weather stations.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a DIY anemometer or rain gauge, of varying degrees of complexity. But the clean look of the final version, completely open nature of the OpenSCAD source, and the low part count make this an extremely compelling option for anyone looking to up their home forecasting game.

ESP32 Weather Station on a PCB

We see lots of ESP8266 projects, but considerably fewer for the ESP32. So this good-looking weather station on a PCB using an ESP32 caught our eye. The board has a few sockets for common weather gear, but with a little modification, it would be a great carrier for an ESP32. Since the PCB layout is available, you could change things around to suit you. You can see a video from [Rui Santos] about his project and its progress from breadboard to PCB in the video below.

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Retrotechtacular: Weather Station Kurt

Sometimes when researching one Hackaday story we as writers stumble upon the one train of thought that leads to another. So it was with a recent look at an unmanned weather station buoy from the 1960s, which took us on a link to a much earlier automated weather station.

The restored Kurt in the Canadian National War Museum.
The restored Kurt in the Canadian National War Museum.

Weather Station Kurt was the only successful installation among a bold attempt by the German military during the Second World War to gain automated real-time meteorological data from the Western side of the Atlantic. Behind that simple sentence hides an extremely impressive technical and military achievement for its day. This was the only land-based armed incursion onto the North American continent by the German military during the entire war. Surrounded as it was though by secrecy, and taking place without conflict in an extremely remote part of Northern Labrador, it passed unnoticed by the Canadian authorities and was soon forgotten as an unimportant footnote in the wider conflagration.

Kurt took the form of a series of canisters containing a large quantity of nickel-cadmium batteries, meteorological instruments, a telemetry system, and a 150W high frequency transmitter. In addition there was a mast carrying wind speed and direction instruments, and the transmitting antenna. In use it was to have provided vital advance warning of weather fronts from the Western Atlantic as they proceeded towards the European theatre of war, the establishment of a manned station on enemy territory being too hazardous.

A small number of these automated weather stations were constructed by Siemens in 1943, and it was one of them which was dispatched in the U-boat U537 for installation on the remote Atlantic coast of what is now part of modern-day Canada. In late October 1943 they succeeded in that task after a hazardous trans-Atlantic voyage, leaving the station bearing the markings of the non-existent “Canadian Meteor Service” in an attempt to deceive anybody who might chance upon it. In the event it was not until 1977 that it was spotted by a geologist, and in 1981 it was retrieved and taken to the Canadian War Museum.

There is frustratingly little information to be found on the exact workings on the telemetry system, save that it made a transmission every few hours on 3940kHz. A Google Books result mentions that the transmission was encoded in Morse code using the enigmatic Graw’s Diaphragm, a “sophisticated contact drum” named after a Dr. [Graw], from Berlin. It’s a forgotten piece of technology that defies our Google-fu in 2017, but it must in effect have been something of a mechanical analogue-to-digital converter.

Should you happen to be visiting the Canadian capital, you can see Kurt on display in the Canadian War Museum. It appears to have been extensively restored from the rusty state it appears in the photograph taken during its retrieval, it would be interesting to know whether anything remains of the Graw’s Diaphragm. Do any readers know how this part of the station worked? Please let us know in the comments.

Weather station Kurt retrieval image, Canadian National Archives. (Public domain).

Weather station Kurt in museum image, SimonP (Public domain).

Retrotechtacular: An Oceanographic Data Station Buoy For The 1960s

When we watch a TV weather report such as the ones that plaster our screens during hurricane season, it is easy to forget the scale of the achievement they represent in terms of data collection and interpretation. Huge amounts of data from a diverse array of sources feed weather models running on some of our most powerful computers, and though they don’t always forecast with complete accuracy we have become used to their getting it right often enough to be trustworthy.

It is also easy to forget that such advanced technology and the vast array of data behind it are relatively recent developments. In the middle of the twentieth century the bulk of meteorological data came from hand-recorded human observations, and meteorologists were dispatched to far-flung corners of the globe to record them. There were still significant areas of meteorological science that were closed books, and through the 1957 International Geophysical Year there was a concerted worldwide effort to close that gap.

We take for granted that many environmental readings are now taken automatically, and indeed most of us could produce an automated suite of meteorological instruments relatively easily using a microcontroller and a few sensors. In the International Geophysical Year era though this technology was still very much in its infancy, and the film below the break details the development through the early 1960s of one of the first automated remote ocean sensor buoys.

Perhaps our last sentence conjures up a vision of something small enough to hold, from all those National Geographic images of intrepid oilskin-clad scientists launching them from the decks of research vessels. But the technology of the early 1960s required something a little more substantial, so the buoy in question is a (using the units of the day) 100 ton circular platform more in the scale of a medium-sized boat. Above deck it was dominated by an HF (shortwave) discone antenna and its atmospheric instrument package. Below deck (aside from its electronic payload) it had a propane-powered internal combustion engine and generator to periodically charge its batteries. In use it would be anchored to the sea floor, and it was designed to operate even in the roughest of maritime conditions.

The film introduces the project, then looks at the design of a hull suitable for the extreme conditions like a hurricane. We see the first prototype being installed off the Florida coast in late 1964, and follow its progress through Hurricane Betsy in 1965. The mobile monitoring station in a converted passenger bus is shown in the heart of the foul weather, receiving constant telemetry from the buoy through 40 foot waves and 110 mph gusts of wind.

We are then shown the 1967 second prototype intended to be moored in the Pacific, this time equipped with a computerised data logging system. A DEC PDP-8 receives the data mounted in the bus, and are told that this buoy can store 24 hours at a stretch for transmission in one go. Top marks to the film production team for use of the word “data” in the plural.

Finally we’re told how a future network of the buoys for presumably the late 1960s and early 1970s could be served by a chain of receiving stations for near-complete coverage of the major oceans. At the height of the Cold War this aspect of the project would have been extremely important, as up-to-the-minute meteorological readings would have had considerable military value.

The film makes an engaging look at a technology few of us will ever come directly into contact with but the benefits of which we will all feel every time we see a TV weather forecast.

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