Robert E. White Instruments, Inc.
Wind & Weather
Are you the kind of pilot whose interest in the weather verges on the obsessional? For example, do you continually dial up or tune in AWOS or ASOS frequencies to check on altimeter settings or trends in wind activity—even if you're not flying that day? Do you log an hour or more per day watching The Weather Channel? Do you lie in bed on rainy nights, wondering just how much rain may accumulate? Beware! If you're not one already, then you're well on the road to becoming a weather geek.
This is a good thing, in my opinion—especially around the holiday season, when your friends and family fret about your "perfect" gift. Tell them to fret no more—you're easy to please! Just leave this magazine open to this page, and place it strategically on a prominent, frequently used table.
Right up front, let me say that a complete listing of weather gear, books, and other paraphernalia is quite impossible in the space allotted here. To scope out a much, much wider range of offerings, check out Robert E. White Instruments, Inc. Another good roster of gear is available via Wind & Weather (see "Weather Geek's Source Guide").
If you don't already have a basic suite of home weather observation instruments, now's the time to gear up. If you're old school (like moi), you'll want to get an analog instrument or two. There are many out there, but I like Maximum Weather Instruments' offerings.
It all starts with a quality home barometer. Maximum's Proteus goes for $395 and is quite accurate. Need to track pressure changes over a week? Then maybe you need an Atlantic ($995) or Cadet ($695) barograph from Robert E. White. Barographs use pens and rotating drums to plot traces of surface atmospheric pressure over a week's time.
For wind measurement there's a range of Maximum analog anemometers that have brass or chrome cases and come with all the necessary cables, anemometer cups, and mounting hardware. Maximum's Maestro (about $475) shows both wind direction and speed, registers peak gusts, and has scales in both miles per hour and kilometers per hour. The less-expensive Vigilant ($315 or so) displays only wind speeds and gusts.
Temperature information is equally important, and for that you can buy Maximum's Mini-Max ($395), a thermometer that records both high and low temperatures. These high-quality weather instruments aren't cheap, but what you're buying is accuracy and durability. Someone wanting a low-cost, dependable maximum-minimum recording thermometer can get the $36 Max-Min Thermometer from Robert E. White. This instrument is mounted outside. The other instruments are installed indoors and have wire leads that go to external sensors. Unless you really like balancing yourself on a rooftop while attaching anemometer masts, aligning wind vanes to north, and so forth, you're better off having a local television antenna/dish installer do this work. I tried to do it myself but chickened out after seeing the view, then scuttled back down the roof to find the Yellow Pages.
Many people like digital instrumentation, and there's certainly no shortage of high-quality units out there. The most popular ones are the digital weather stations that incorporate several instrument readouts in one display. The top of the line has to be Robert E. White's $3,999 Weather Logging Station. It can even record lightning strikes, plus leaf wetness (!), plus all the usual temperature/pressure/ wind variables. More in line with reality is Davis Instruments' solar-powered $595 Vantage Pro2, which can show more than 80 graphs of temperature, pressure, and so on, and lets you set some 70 alarms for various data points. For the precipitation function, you need an external rain gauge, which is extra. You can spend more than $900 if you order all of the options.
Online shopping opens the doors to the field of weather equipment, and those doors open wide. Do enough surfing and you'll discover a huge array of instruments in a wide range of prices. For example, a tipping bucket rain gauge will set you back more than $100, but the kind that you simply mount on a fence post is a mere $10. (The tipping bucket collects rain on alternate sides of a bucket/reservoir; when one side is full, it tips the bucket and the other side is ready to collect the next batch of rain. Each tilt of the collecting buckets is calibrated to reflect rainfall amount). For my money, I'll take the fence-post model.
Is all this hardware (and software—many digital weather stations let you download data to specific weather-tracking software) really necessary? You're asking the wrong person, but my biased answer is: Of course it is! Weather watching is extremely educational and should be a central part of a pilot's experience.
After a few days of watching your weather gear, you can easily spot a frontal passage in the making, then watch its progress as it moves by. A barometer that plunges, then rises tells of a frontal passage. So does a barograph, which sends a very clear advance message when a fast-moving cold front crops up or a hurricane comes near. You'll see the pen trace a steep drop in pressure, followed by a steep rise. The final result is a V-shaped trace. With hurricanes, the pen may completely drop off the bottom of the scale.
So to those nonpilots out there, think of these gifts as safety and educational enhancements for your pilot-recipients, not indulgences. Besides, if you don't buy them, your pilot friend/family member may do the job on their own.
E-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.