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Explainer Smart Home

What's the point of a smart weather station?

Besides better forecasts, smart weather stations can roll local conditions into your home-automation scheme.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

"Why not just look outside?" That's the most common response I hear whenever the topic of smart weather stations comes up. It's a reasonable question at the convergence of two topics -- smart home and weather prediction -- with a lot of skeptics. The answer is simple: to get the most local weather information possible. These systems keep an eye on climate conditions right where they sit. They're also bristling with sensors that can track local rainfall, wind, air pressure, even UV levels in real time.

These devices don't just collect that data for fun. Among other things, they can use it to generate custom forecasts tied to your exact location. Many new weather stations also work in tandem with other connected household products, too, which means you can trigger lights and thermostat settings based on the local conditions. They can command web-connected garden sprinklers and lawn irrigation systems, too. Even if you don't see a need for hyperlocal weather info for its own sake, you might be able to make good use of it in conjunction with other devices around your home.

More senses for smarter homes

Think of a smart weather station as a set of new senses for your home. A basic system typically measures outdoor temperature, humidity and air pressure. Often it will tell you when it starts to rain, and more advanced systems have the ability to measure rainfall amounts as well.

Premium weather devices can also sample wind conditions, including speed and direction. Likewise, thanks to UV light and solar radiation sensors, some weather stations notice when the sun is shining and how brightly.                                                                                                             

A few weather station examples

Here are three notable weather station kits with plenty of features at moderate prices. Together they represent a good range of hardware you'll likely encounter on the market, although you'll find plenty of companies hawking similar solutions, with prices ranging from $30 to several thousand.

netatmo-wind-and-rain-gauge

Here's a look at the Netatmo Wind and Rain Gauge modules.

Brian Bennett/CNET

Netatmo Weather Station

First up is the $149 Netatmo Weather Station. Inside the box are two units: an indoor module and an outdoor module. The indoor device keeps tabs on conditions inside your home. It records ambient temperature, humidity and air pressure as well as CO2 and noise levels.The outdoor unit lives outside and logs temperature plus humidity. The system links to your home network via Wi-Fi as well.

The outdoor module runs off of two AAA batteries which Netatmo says supplies enough power for two years. The indoor module is powered by a standard microUSB wall adapter (AC). To complete the weather station, Netatmo also sells additional modules. These include a $79 rain gauge and a $100 wind gauge.

Ambient Weather WS-1002 WIFI Observer

Another option is the $200 Ambient Weather WS-1002 WIFI Observer. This system has a traditional weather station design. A single unit, all the Observer's sensors are packed inside an aerodynamic chassis. It logs wind speed, wind direction, temperature, humidity, rainfall and UV and solar radiation.

The Observer connects to your home Wi-Fi network too, so it operates wirelessly. The product draws power from a solar panel during the day and a trio of disposable AA batteries at night. 

The Bloomsky Storm in action.

Bloomsky

Bloomsky Sky2 and Bloomsky Storm

Startup company Bloomsky is a newcomer to the personal weather station space. Its debut system, the Sky, began shipping widely in 2016. It made waves by integrating an HD camera, the first gadget of its kind to do so. Bloomsky followed up soon after with the $300 Sky2 plus a new accessory, the $140 Storm.

The Sky2 is mainly an evolutionary upgrade with an improved setup process aided by Bluetooth. The Storm though brings wind sensors and rain measurement to Bloomsky's solution. Both units are powered by a combination of solar panels and lithium ion rechargeable batteries. The Sky2 and Storm also communicate to both the internet and the Bloomsky mobile app through home Wi-Fi.      

What smart weather can do for you

Hyperlocal forecasts

Weather apps are fine for general info. To see localized weather data and forecasts, only a personal weather station fits the bill. For example, all three of the stations above will link to Weather Underground's network of personal weather stations. Once you register, the free service provides local forecasts based on data sampled right in your backyard.

Get super localized forecasts based on your personal weather station data.

Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

Many weather apps pull information from just one location -- say, a park near a city center or an airport. If the closest of these sites is scores of miles away, a personal weather station will be more accurate. Weather Underground also claims to pull data from over 250,000 personal weather stations. According to the company, it uses the crowdsourced info to improve the accuracy of all of its forecasts.

Choose what alerts you'd like to receive based on current weather conditions.

Screenshot by Brian Bennett/CNET

Personal alerts

Wild temperature swings could spell trouble for your home. A smart weather station will push alerts via mobile app when it detects extreme heat and cold. Know the minute a cold snap plunges temps below freezing. Sub-zero temperatures put pipes at risk of freezing and possibly bursting. Thus, severe cold alerts signal the right moment to shut off water to outdoor faucets for the winter.

The same applies when outdoor conditions get too hot. That will help you decide when it's time to shelter pets or sensitive plants inside (potted ones, anyway). Your landscaping can succumb to summer temperatures, too. A properly timed alert could help your plants withstand withering midday heat with a morning spray of leaf-cooling mist.

High winds are also dangerous. Don't let unfurled picnic-table umbrellas get blown off the backyard deck. Receive alerts for strong wind gusts so you know when to secure outdoor furniture.

Rainfall and water

A capable weather station can help you water your plants and lawn more efficiently. Use daily reports of actual rainfall totals to decide whether you can skip a day of irrigation. A smart weather system will even communicate with connected irrigation systems automatically. For instance, a connected weather station can shut off smart sprinklers like the Rachio when it detects rain.

The Netatmo, Bloomsky, and Ambient Weather stations mentioned before all have this ability. These products enjoy IFTTT (If This Then That) platform support. The integration enables the capability along with other smart home product interactions.    

Automate things inside

An intelligent weather station doesn't just have to control gadgets outside. They can command things inside your home, too. When your station detects rain you can have your lights turn on. Conversely, when the clouds part and the sun begins to shine, your weather station can dim lighting, raise the shades and so on.

The Netatmo Weather Station's indoor module is particularly useful. Also, thanks to IFTTT, you can have your smart thermostat kick in when inside humidity or temperature triggers it. Essentially it's a way to extend the reach of your thermostat's sensors and increase indoor comfort.   

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