Category Archives: Editorial
My first Weather Station was a thermometer screened by a baked bean tin!
Since 1975 i’ve had a weather station in some shape or form (more or less). I started out with a home made screen consisting of a thermometer and a baked bean tin, opened out and painted white to form a screen, nailed to a fencepost in the garden. I became totally obsessed with that, recording 4 times a day. This was a manual thing in those days, so I had to go out in all weathers to keep it up. However it came with me through some monumental and historic weather, namely the hot summers of 1975 and 1976, the freezing cold winters of 1978-79 and 1981-82, before I moved house.
Then I bought a Davis Weathermonitor 2
I didn’t manage to get another one together until I was married, in a different part of town (Ferryhill). This was a little digital unit with a separate rain gauge. It lasted a couple of years, but the only really notable weather it captured was the snow of February 1991.
By 1997 I’d gathered together enough cash to buy a Davis Weather Station. This was very expensive for me, but it attached to my computer and I could read the weather without going outside. It was all cabled together though and looked a bit unsightly. I ran this until about 2011, culminating in the phenomenal December of 2010. Then it died.
After moving to our Durham house, we had a garden back (although it was a total tip until last year). Making the garden good again, I began to appreciate it’s microclimate and wanted to get a station going again. These days, wireless kit has become commonplace and now interfaces easily with smart phones and tablets. One of the most difficult things about the Davis was getting it to run on a Mac. I’m still a great fan of Davis kit, but I needed the new station to run with Apple’s hardware, so I ended up picking up a Netatmo, a French Company.
My 3rd an current weather station is by NetAtmo
The Netatmo station comes very well packaged, direct from France. Unpacking it reveals two sleek aluminium tubes – the larger one being the base station sensor that sits indoors, and a second smaller tube that’s designed to sit outside. Documentation is minimal, but points you to downloading an app to your phone to facilitate the installation. The first thing to do is get the base station talking to your wifi. The base station is mains powered and once that is plugged in the app leads you through the configuration of adding the second sensor. Pretty easy stuff.
Next thing is siting the two items. I chose to sit the base station in the corner of the living room, behind the TV. The base station monitors indoor temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, ambient noise and carbon dioxide.
Next, the outside sensor. This measures outside temperature and humidity. It also allows Dew Point to be derived. The small external sensor runs from two AA batteries which need to be installed when pairing with the base station. It comes with a mounting strap with velcro attachment, designed to secure it around a drainpipe or post. It also comes with a slot at the back of the aluminium casing by which you can attach it to a wall with a screw. This was my chosen route and I put it on the north facing wall of my shed (the only place in the garden not to receive direct sunlight. I had read online that the sensor needed sheltering from direct rain, as it would mean the humidity readings would stay high until the sensor dried out. For that reason I installed a little pelmet above it, made from PVC tongue and groove cladding, to protect it from the rain.
Extra purchase was the Rain Gauge
I also purchased the Netatmo rain gauge, but unfortunately forget to get a mounting bracket (sold separately) so I couldn’t set this up straight away. The rain gauge is very sleek and has a broad, transparent plastic funnel top and a black cylinder below housing the tipping bucket rain detector. Each tip is calibrated at 0.1mm of rain, so it’s quite high resolution. There’s a screw hole in the base for attachment to the bracket, which I secured to a fence post with three screws. It’s important that the top of the gauge is perfectly level to make sure the ‘tip’ works properly, so I set it up with a spirit level to make sure. There is also an ingenious anemometer if you have a suitable site for mounting and correct exposure.
As can be seen, the data on the station can be shown via a Widget (actually from a 3rd party Netatmo site) and Netatmo also operate their own Network where other station owner’s data can be seen on a map. This is useful for local comparisons and it’s easy to see when a station is incorrectly sited. The third party sites can also enable much more extensive analysis than the Netatmo one and it’s possible to set up a weather station page to display current readings
Verdict on the NetAtmo Weather Station
The NetAtmo weather station is a capable device for amateur weather observers and provides accurate data, and being wireless it can be installed discretely without much fuss. The app from NetAtmo is basic, but there are numerous other third-party ones that offer better visualisation of the data. I’m currently using myatmo and Smartmixin.
Setup is easy using a smartphone such as an iPhone or Samsung device.
It looks good, and could very easily fit in with modern decor in the living room or study and wouldn’t look out of place at all. It’s smooth lines allow it to blend with any modern furniture.
I think i’d give it 8/10
NetAtmo Weather Station
Price : £119.99 (extra for rain gauge and anemometer)
Available From : Our Amazon Store
Liam Dutton explains why most weather stories carried by the tabloid press and issued by organisations like Exacta Weather and the like should be ignored as complete hokum. Most weather forecasters just ignore such stuff, but irresponsible and sensationalist forecasts ‘gets Liam’s goat’, as it does mine, so here’s his video.
If you have any stories about how bad or bogus weather stories have affected your decisions and life, please let us know by commenting below.
Some fake weather news pages from the Daily Express featuring exacta weather and nathan rao
It’s nearly Winter again, and if you look at the headlines in the papers, you’ll notice that the silly season has started again, particularly regarding weather stories. It’s noticeable that the same names crop up consistently – exacta weather, james madden, piers corbyn and nathan rao.
Every winter now it seems certain newspapers are spouting stories of Snowmaggedon, with 3 months of blizzards and record low temperatures. They claim links with Solar activity, El Nino, and other pseudo-scientific links that are at best dubious and at worst complete and utter garbage.
There also appears to be a small hardcore of characters feeding the papers with this rubbish. The newspapers lap it up, because it sells copy, and that is their business. Most of the stories aren’t based on fact, and some are completely fabricated by the writers.
The three main protagonists of the fake weather stories seem to be:
James Madden (owner of Exacta Weather)
Nathan Rao (freelance journalist often seen posting as a Science Writer in the Daily Express)
Piers Corbyn (Weather Action owner and brother of Labour Party leader Jeremy)
James Madden/Exacta Weather
Now, as a seasoned amateur weatherman, these three make my blood boil. The first of them, James Madden (Exacta Weather) is the main driver of the rubbish predictions we see in the tabloid newspapers every other day. There’s always a quote from him. If you read a weather story and James Madden/Exacta Weather is included, please discount it as complete hogwash. He tries to give the impression that Exacta Weather are a huge company, with banks of computers generating their own model output for James to interpret, but in fact Exacta Weather isn’t even registered at Companies House. No, James is a one man operation running from a flat in Lancaster.
He was lucky enough to guess (NOT forecast) the cold December of 2010 and has been trying ever since to replicate that luck, but it has deserted him. In fact, if you want to know what the weather is going to be like, presume it will be the opposite of what James predicts and you won’t be dissapointed.
Nathan Rao has somehow weedled his way into the celebrity forecasting slot. He likes the sound of his own voice and is one of the new breed of people who’ll do anything to be on TV. He is accepted into the celebrity fold because he fits perfectly into the mould. All teeth and no substance. He is a professional journalist who writes sensational copy to sell newspapers. In that respect, he’s an Editors dream, but his stories contain very little science and sometimes I think he’s submitting a script for the latest Hollywood disaster movie. He should know better, but he’s more concerned with letting the World know he’s the biggest Madonna fan. Enough said I think.
I first came across Piers Corbyn when he was invited to speak at a Meteorological Society meeting at Durham University in the early 1980’s. He looks like a typical mad professor type and for a while I thought he had an interesting product. He claimed to have bet on the outcome of his own predictions with a great deal of success, but like the other two, he’s a fanatical self publicist and believes he can declare his own success rate.
It is a common factor that these people all believe they can verify their own methods and results. They claim high levels of success rate, but strangely, independent analysis of their methods would reveal actual success rates are worse than chance. That means that an average chimpanzee could produce results just as good or even better.
My advice if you are a discerning reader of weather stories, dismiss these people as charlatans and instead listen to people who know what they’re talking about. Read weather reports from our own Prof Tim Burt (Durham University), Roger Brugge (University of Reading), Trevor Harley and the Royal Meteorological Society. Liam Dutton also tries his hardest to challenge these people producing the sensationalist headlines.
Recommended Reading (if you want to know how Weather really works)
What are your own thoughts about Exacta Weather/Nathan Rao and Piers Corbyn? Leave a reply below.
Professor Gordon Manley (1902 – 1980) became the first Head of the Department of Geography at Durham University in 1928. During his nine year term of office, Professor Manley became the Curator of the Durham University Observatory where he did much work in establishing the Durham temperature series as comparable to that of Oxford.
Professor Manley’s work at Durham laid the foundation for his Central England Temperature Record, a series dating from 1694 and maintained to this day. In 1952 Collins published his Climate and the British Scene in their New Naturalist series. This book, easily accessible to the non-academic reader, was one of his greatest contributions to British climatology.
Gordon Manley died in 1980. His obituary in The Geographical Journal noted that his “departure removes a notable figure from the ranks of a subject currently enjoying a marked revival of interest, a revival which he did much to foster”.
Durham University Observatory
There’s a lot of talk going around about summer 2008 being the ‘worst in living memory’. Well, I hate that phrase, because it is basically worthless. The human memory is horribly fallible when it comes to remembering what happened when, especially regarding the weather. The memory filters out things, depending on the activity being undertaken. It also has no concept of what is ‘normal’, and how current conditions compare to that norm. It is purely a qualitative measure, rather than a quantitative one. In addition, substantial bias creeps in due to media stories from elsewhere in the UK. Some people also choose to disregard official weather statistics (ie the amount of rain, sunshine, temps recorded etc), thinking that their memory is perfectly infallible and that statistics always lie. These people always know best. There are quite a few around, and they always confuse ‘climate’ with ‘weather’. The fact that it has been cool for a couple of weeks means that climate change is indeed rubbish as far as they are concerned. Britain is obviously wetter than it’s ever been and summers are now always poor! So the hottest July since 1659, recorded just two years ago doesn’t count then?
This month, August has been qualitatively poor, but looking at the numbers, it’s not been exceptionally so from a quantitative standpoint. Temperatures have been unexceptional during the day (only 6 days > 20C here), but haven’t dropped very low at night so the mean is still slightly above average for 1971-2000 (the latest 30 year ‘normal’ we measure against). Temperature isn’t the only criteria with which to measure things however. Rainfall this month has been way above average in most places, some getting 200% of normal. This sounds a lot, and feels soggy, but it is still well within normal climatic variation for any one place, and when we look back through historical records it occurs quite frequently. Sure, some records have been broken in Northern Ireland, but not everywhere. In Eastern England, any sustained wet weather appears like a deluge for us because we actually live on the dry side of the country and are used to lower daily rainfalls. August 2008 has only had one completely dry day here, so this makes it feel a particualry wet month, but it isn’t when measured quantitiatively, compared to the normal and it’s range of variation.
Sunshine in greatest deficit
Sunshine has been in the greatest deficit, and I put it forward that a summer without a good deal of sunshine feels much poorer than it really is. There can be poor temperatures and lots of rain, but lack of sunshine is the thing that makes people feel more down than ever about a summer. This summer has suffered from that, with August only yielding about 40% of normal sunshine. That feels dismal and is probably why people feel it’s the ‘worst in living memory’, but hands up who can remember dullness? Who can recall which months in the past were exceptionally dull? Nobody, because it’s not something that can in fact be remembered meaningfully at all. We have to rely on statistics for this one, and as a whole the summer of 2008 has been below average for sunshine, but compared to others in the weather record it isn’t exceptionally poor.
Worst in living memory?
What i’m trying to say is, let’s get rid of this ‘in living memory’ phrase, because it’s a meaningless, rubbish measure. People can’t remember more than a couple of years back at most, and if you asked them how two months compared weather-wise they wouldn’t be able to tell you. Numerical weather records are the only way to remove pure perception from the conditions experienced. Remember, meteorology and climate are sciences and therefore must be approached as such, not in a way that relies on newspaper sensationalism, or taking individual instances as representative of wider areas, over longer periods. Qualitative perception is dangerous and fraught with difficulty. People say conditions are poor, but how many know what the quantitative normals are so they can compare their perception to those normals?
For those wishing to look back to see how much they’ve forgotten or were unaware of, look at http://www.personal.dundee.ac.uk/~taharley/britweather.htm
Amateur weather forecaster Foggitt dies
World-renowned amateur weather forecaster Bill Foggitt has died in hospital at the age of 91.
Mr Foggitt’s unconventional methods – using signs in nature rather than science for his predictions – made him the scourge of professionals but alegend among the masses.
One of the high points of his career came when the Association of Science Education used Mr Foggitt’s “sensing” methods in a textbook for the national curriculum.
He had long argued that plants, animals and insects were provided a much better guide to short-term local climate changes than technology.
In 1985, Mr Foggitt achieved a higher percentage (88) of accurate daily summertime forecasts than two professional weathermen, including Michael Fish, who trailed with 74 per cent.
And during the winter of 1968-69, he managed the astonishing feat of issuing a broadly accurate week-by-week forecast.
Mr Foggitt, from Thirsk, North Yorkshire, had been a local legend for some time, but achieved international fame in the year he out-forecast Mr Fish.
During a cold snap in the winter of 1985, the Met Office warned of a prolonged cold spell, but Mr Foggitt had witnessed a mole poking its head through the snow and dismissed the prediction. He was right.
Television crews from around the world headed for Thirsk market place to hear how trees, pine cones, moles, and climate records kept by his family for more than 200 years were used by the forecaster.
His biographer Mike Cresswell said: “He was one of the county’s great characters. He had the perfect name for the interest he pursued, but it was more than just that.”
Mr Foggitt, a widower, had originally wanted to be a priest but became a teacher after an unfulfilling stint behind a chemist’s counter.
He ran through a range of jobs including a storeman at an ICI ammunition depot and saw war service with the Ordnance Corps.
Mr Foggitt became a Methodist lay preacher after failing his studies at a Church of England college, but returned to Thirsk after being knocked down by a car and badly injured.
During his convalescence, he began studying the family’s weather records – started by his great-grandfather to help understand the flooding problems in Yarm, Teesside – and became fascinated. Mr Cresswell added: “He taught us that for all the scientific advances, the everyday behaviour of nature remains one of the best guides to predicting the weather.”