One of the things that goes hand in hand with being a weather photographer / storm chaser is being something of a weather junkie and amateur meteorologist. Being one of those weather junkies for many years, I have wanted my own weather station for years. For any number of reasons I never invested in one, but apparently I ended up on the “nice” list for Christmas 2012 and Santa brought me an Ambient Weather WS-2080. The following blog post is my review and experiences after having that station up and running for just over a year.
You will see weather photographers / storm chasers using tools such as realtime radar maps and local forecasts while out in the field. Things like the laptop computer, iPad and high speed cellular internet connections have given us the data we need to do a much better job of being in the right place at the right time. Even though a personal weather station is a great tool for the weather junkies out there, the fact is that we also look at it as a fun toy, and I was really excited when I got mine for Christmas. I couldn’t wait to get it setup and feeding me data.
Most weather stations have 2 elements to them. The first is the outdoor sensors and the second is the indoor panel that displays the data. The outdoor sensor array can have any number of sensors and the Ambient Weather WS-2080 comes with the ability to measure rainfall, wind speed, wind direction, temperature and air pressure. Setup of the outdoor sensor array was very straight forward, basically just plug in the wires (which use RJ-11 telephone type connectors) and insert the batteries. I am not going to cover the placement of the outdoor sensor array in this review as that would be a lot of information that simply isn’t relevant to this post. The setup of the indoor panel was even easier, simply insert 2 AA batteries and within a few minutes it starts receiving data from the sensor array.
There are some things that you can program on the panel, but for the most part they are display type options such as time zone, F or C for temperature display, relative or absolute air pressure as well as a few other things which are also not important to this review. At this point you have a LCD panel in your house displaying realtime weather data from the sensor array you have already placed outdoors but most weather junkies are not going to be satisfied with just that, we want to get our weather data out to the world via the internet.
While the WS-2080 does not have the means to directly feed weather data to the internet, it does provide a USB port that is built into the panel and allows you to feed data to a computer which in turn will feed it to the weather service of your choice. In my case I choose to feed data to Weather Underground. Since I am a Mac user I couldn’t use any of the software provided by Ambient Weather and as such is not part of this review, but I did purchase a very popular application called Weather Snoop and connected my station’s panel to a Mac Mini that had Weather Snoop running on it. Within minutes I could log into Weather Underground and see near real time data from my personal weather station, what would be better for a weather junkie.
Months went by and everything worked perfectly. I recommended this weather station to a number of my friends. It wasn’t until the middle of the summer that I had my first “glitch” with the station. It rains a lot here in Western Washington but we were in the middle of a fairly long dry spell over the summer when I noticed that my station reported that it had rained just over 38” of rain in about 30 seconds. As I said, we get a lot of rain, but that was a bit out of the norm. I just wrote this off as a glitch, reset the rain data on Weather Snoop and moved on. Again, months went by and things worked perfectly, that is until late fall, when things really started to go south.
The first real indication that things were not functioning the way I expected them to was in the middle of December when out of the blue my panel started displaying 0000 for the air pressure. All the other sensor data was correct but I thought it would be a good time to replace the batteries in the outdoor sensor array. I pulled the array off of the mast I have it installed on, check all the connections and replaced the batteries. Much to my disappointment this did not correct the problem with the air pressure reading. The next red flag came when I got an alert from Weather Underground that they had not received weather data from my station for 3 hours. I checked the logs in Weather Snoop and found that it was reporting that it had received corrupted data from the panel and hadn’t sent in the updates. I reset everything and the data started flowing again, for about a week when it happened again. This actually continued up until the first week in January with the interval between the data failures getting shorter and shorter until it got to a point that I was having to reset everything 2 or 3 times a day.
This brought me to the 2nd week of January, almost exactly 1 year that my WS-2080 had been in operation and I contacted the technical support staff at Ambient Weather and explained the issues I was having. While I did get a very prompt reply, I didn’t really get any useful information from them. Their best suggestion was that it might be the panel and that I should try to replace it. Even though I knew that I was about a month beyond the date that my wife purchased the station, I asked if there was any way to get a panel on a warranty basis and was told that no, since the station was just outside of the warranty period I would have to purchase a panel, which might fix my problem. In other words, take a $50 gamble that this would fix my $100 weather station. In my opinion this simply wasn’t a good bet and I decided to not purchase a new panel. Granted, if I had reported the early issues to Ambient Weather I am sure I would have had a different outcome, but given the timing of the holidays and when I started having the real problems, that didn’t happen and is entirely my fault.
As of the writing of this review I am still experiencing the issues that I have described. I am keeping an eye out for used WS-2080 panels on sites like Ebay and if I find one for a good price, I will pick it up and see if it corrects my issues. I have reached out to friends who are using the same station, some for even longer than I have, and none have reported having any of the issues I am, this could easily be issues unique to my station. I am also spending some time researching replacement stations since now that I have had one, I can’t imagine not having one down the road, I am a weather junkie after all.