Weather Monitoring on Windows 3.1! 1990s Davis PC Weather Station

Weather Monitoring on Windows 3.1! 1990s Davis PC Weather Station

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[smooth jazz] [drive buzzes] [PC beeps] - So, how 'bout that weather we've been having? Just generally, at any given time, wherever you happen to be? That heat, that cold, that rain, that drought, that crazy wind the other day, and oh, the humidity, or lack thereof! I tell ya, whether you like it or not, weather is a constant source of conversation, with good reason. Outdoor conditions can make the difference between a productive day and a total write-off. Checking local weather reports is just part of the daily routine more often than not, but as informative as that is, what if you need even more local weather reports, like *really* local? Literally outside-your-dining-room-window local? Or hey, maybe you're like me and just think graphs are neat and environmental monitoring tech is fun. In either case, let's give a precipitously warm greetings to this LGR Thing, the Davis Instruments Weather Station. More specifically, the Complete Weather Station from 1997, paired with the fourth-generation Davis WeatherLink software for PCs running Windows 3.1. It's able to observe temperature, barometric pressure, humidity, dewpoint, rainfall, and wind speed and direction, all connected to a PC using a serial interface and a handful of adapters.

And it's all still sealed and unused, thanks to a generous donation from LGR viewer Durran, who took it home after it showed up at their local Free Geek store. Seems that originally it was sold by Captain's Nautical Supply for $165 for the software, while the complete station cost $495 all on its own in 1997. It's worth nothing, though, that these same basic weather kits go back even further, with the earliest WeatherLink bundles I found dating back to 1991 for Mac and MS-DOS-based systems, paired with the then-new Weather Monitor II. Ads for these were frequently found in magazines like Popular Mechanics, along with anything that involved flight, boating, and other outdoorsy endeavors.

"Haven't you always wanted a weather station?" Well, here it is! Be your own weatherman by letting the equipment do the work for you, and track the weather with your personal computer either in person or remotely. Yeah, a big part of these Davis WeatherLink-connected kits was their ability to automatically generate digital weather reports so you can retrieve them at your convenience. As long as you had a modem with your PC, with the optional modem adapter and text-to-speech card, your Weather Station served as a personalized dial-up reporting system, accessible via telephone. So for instance, you could call up the station at your vacation home to check the weather ahead of time, or dial into the system at the marina to see if it's a good day to take your boat out on the water, or set it to work as a wine cellar alarm system so you'll get a call letting you know if the temperature or humidity go outside the optimal range for all your collectible wines. [chuckle] Yeah, I'm sensing a target demographic here.

Which, yeah, if you had a spare PC dedicated to leaving at your vacation home to monitor the weather back in the 1990s, I think it's safe to say you had some extra cash lying around. So, while I don't have a yacht or vacation home or wine cellar, I do at least have a Windows 3.1 PC or two that we can use to see how it works and imagine what it must have been like to be a well-off, weather-enthused computer owner in the '90s. And that begins with getting it all unboxed, starting with the WeatherLink software itself.

Unfortunately I don't have the optional modem adapter to enable remote dial-up connections, but I also don't have a physical phone line either, so it wouldn't be much help. And the rest of the software remains fully usable directly connected to the Weather Station, which we have version 4.02 on this 3.5-inch high density diskette. There's also an ad for the Davis National Service Center in case things go wrong, a healthy 81-page instruction manual for the program, and a bag of technological goodies. There are two serial adapters, 9-pin and 25-pin, depending on which type is on your PC. This little loop-back adapter helps determine which COM port is being used on the WeatherLink.

And then there's the WeatherLink itself, which connects to the serial adapter using an RJ-11 cable and provides the interface for your Weather Station to talk to the software. Then there's all the stuff in the Complete Weather Kit itself, which works completely independently of the software side of things until connected to the WeatherLink. Inside these four boxes are the four main components, starting with the temperature and humidity sensor. It's the standard external sensor, no radiation shielding or anything special, though it does have a 40-foot, or 12-meter-long, cable attached, which is pretty generous. Same goes with the anemometer, with the same length of cable connected to the main arm, along with a mounting base, wind cups, and a weather vane.

Then there's the largest package, which contains the rain collector, Davis's second iteration. With another cable just as long, some mounting hardware, detachable funnel, a debris screen, and the base that contains a tipping bucket system for measuring rainfall. Finally there's the heart of this whole thing, the Weather Monitor II.

It's a low-power computer with a barely backlit LCD screen, which does all the actual observation work and acts as a hub for everything else in the kit to connect to. It runs either off a 9-volt battery or a 9-volt power adapter, with both ideally being used at the same time for reliability's sake. Then there's another length of cable, which connects to the junction box. And it's here where you plug in those longer cables for the anemometer, rain collector, and outside thermometer.

Installation is pretty straightforward, and the manual does a good job explaining the less-than-straightforward parts. But the main thing is that you get it all set up and mounted in a nice open area with minimal nearby obstructions. On top of a roof, for example, as shown on this typical installation graphic.

I do have a roof, but unfortunately it's not very practical to go through the trouble of mounting a Weather Station all the way up there, mainly because I don't intend to have this be a permanent setup, but also because I wanted to easily record footage of the Weather Station in action. So instead I'm mounting it beside the house, where I have a second, lower roofline that's more accessible and viewable from a window. And for some reason, I chose a day toward the end of June to do the installation, which just so happened to be a humid 88 degrees, or 31 degrees celsius. But yeah, the main concern here was getting everything level, and since I didn't have a mount for the slant of this roof, I just slapped a shelf onto the end of it and screwed everything into that in lieu of buying more mounting hardware, which was a silly-sounding prospect since this was only a temporary solution. And once I got the rain collector installed, it's just a matter of getting the cables strung along the roof and through a window or something until they meet the junction box, which connects to the Weather Monitor, which connects to your PC.

I tested out the rain collector real quick to see if the buckets tipped correctly, and yep, everything was fine. So I continued the installation of the anemometer and outside thermometer over the next couple hours, slowly sweatin' my balls off in the name of science! [chuckles in ball sweat] Yeah, there was something oddly fun about this though. It's hard to say why.

Setting up poles, stringing along wires, mounting assorted bits of technology outside... Seriously felt like Doc Brown in that one scene. - [Cop] What's with the wire? - [Doc] Oh, just... A little weather experiment. - [Clint] Right, so! With the wind and rain stuff taken care of, I went ahead and got the outdoor thermometer mounted underneath the roof as recommended.

Then I got all the wires loosely gathered together and strung along the roofline up to the window, again not doing anything too permanent since this is only temporary. And yeah, that's that. Anemometer's analyzing, thermometer's thermometerizing, and the rain collector's ready for rain renever it rains again! The Weather Station II computer immediately started observing and logging weather conditions too, although what it can actually remember here is super limited. It's a bit like a glorified digital organizer crossed with an alarm clock, with just enough memory to keep track of things like the date and time, high and low temperatures, wind speed and wind chill, total rainfall, dewpoint, pressure, and humidity. It also indicates the current inside temperature, and you can set an alarm to sound if conditions reach a certain point on any of the instruments.

But that's about it. It doesn't have the ability to save long-term observations or analyze weather trends, much like your run-of-the-mill multifunction weather sensors you can grab at any given hardware store. On that note, I did some comparisons with other instruments to determine accuracy and, ah. The outdoor thermometer is way off, often indicating 6 to 10 degrees higher than it actually is. I expected it to be a little off, with its lack of radiation shielding, but yeah, this sensor was weirdly unreliable even though it was set up under the same roof as my other temperature sensor that proved way more accurate.

As for the wind and rain stuff, the anemometer seems fine, though I didn't really have anything to compare it to. And the rain collector, eh. It's okay, but it's still about a quarter inch off in its observations. Surprising no one, just about every single one of these devices has long since been discontinued and replaced with an upgraded model.

And reading over the reasons why this rain collector was discontinued in the nineties, well, turns out this model was particularly prone to getting clogged with debris, not standing up to very high winds, its internal measuring buckets weren't as accurate as spoons, and birds were quite fond of resting on the edge and pooping in it. And, I mean, they weren't wrong. Birds love this thing. Seems like every time I looked out the window there was one feathered friend or another lounging on top, using it as a big plastic toilet or sitting around all day like they owned the place. So every few days I took off the funnel to clean out the filter and free up the hole of debris and bird dumps. Knowing this, the rain collector they replaced it with makes a ton of sense, and it's a design that Davis continues to sell to this day.

And on that note, this entire weather system is pretty modular, so you can add, take away, or replace things as your needs change. And many of its parts work across generations, so if I really wanted to, I could upgrade this entire thing to their current system, which of course is all smart device-connected now, with apps and wireless data collection options. But this is LGR, and that means old computers, so let's whip out the Woodgrain 486, get the Weather Station II plugged into the serial port, and install the WeatherLink software for Windows 3.1.

[music fades] Alrighty! So, I got everything all set up here and ready to go on the 486. And the program taking care of everything is PCLink, and getting it set up was interesting. There's a really handy walkthrough to walk though that helps you configure your Weather Station and make sure everything is set to the proper combo of accessories and components. And then it lets you choose your local units of measurement, which here in the U.S. is all kinds of silly,

but it's what I'm used to and it's what all the local weather here uses, so my apologies to the metric system. Then, after selecting and testing your serial port, you can enter the current barometric pressure and total rainfall and the current time and date. And then, finally, you set the archive interval which determines how often observations are stored on the WeatherLink interface itself. So anywhere from one minute to two hours, it'll record the current conditions and save them onto the WeatherLink. As a reminder, this is the WeatherLink and this is the Weather Monitor II. They work together, but yeah, not the same thing, and it's the WeatherLink that archives the data observed by the Weather Monitor II.

The link has its own little bit of internal memory, and the more often you archive data and the more detailed your weather reports become, the more rapidly it'll run out of memory. So the whole idea is to connect it to a PC from time to time and let it download the archives from the WeatherLink and then clear the memory to continue recording data, which is something you can set it to do automatically at certain points in the day if your computer is already powered on and everything's connected. Or you can simply take care of it manually and archive whenever you think about it, which is mostly what I've been doing.

Either way, there's no need to keep the Weather Station connected to a computer all the time if you don't want to, which, you know, in the 90's you probably didn't. So the WeatherLink simply runs in the background, watching your weather 24/7, and recording what it sees however often you tell it to, which for me, I had it set to observe conditions every 15 minutes at first before moving on to every 30 minutes since it ran out of memory after a week and a half or so of constant recording. And yeah, that is that.

At this point it's pretty self-sufficient, so long as you remember to download the contents of the WeatherLink and clear the memory every so often, which right now it is completely cleared, so it's just gonna record away until when I tell it not to, basically. And in terms of what you do with the data, well, there's all kinds of stuff you can do here, mostly regarding all of these different reports here. Not all of them we can do, but the things that we do have, it's pretty cool. So let's just go across the top of this here. So our station, LGR Station 1, is the only one we've got.

We can connect or download and hang up or whatever. We've already done that. And then the weather bulletin. This is one of the most amusing things to open up and get a quick glance of all your weather going on outside at the moment. Yeah, look at that.

Wind direction, temperature, wind speed, humidity, the barometer, the rain. And this is all just right now, so really, this is like an expanded look of what we could already see just on the Weather Monitor II itself, and it's just to get all of it here at once with these lovely Windows 3.1 graphics. I kinda wish I had the DOS version of this as well, just to compare it, because that was what was shown on the back of the actual WeatherLink software. But yeah, it just came with the Windows 3.1 version

with mine, so that's what this is. But of course, it only goes more in-depth from here, so all these different reports. There's this NOAA stuff, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration here in the U.S. which handles all kinds of weathery things.

So yeah, it provides a nice monthly chronological summary for LGR Station 1. Look at this! [data-induced laughter] Aw yeah, that's pretty cool, man. All kinds of official-looking data that I put together myself without having to actually put it together myself.

Ah yeah, that is pretty awesome. Let's see if we can go to the yearly summary here and see even more. Yeah, so I've just been going since June. I had actually only planned on doing about a month of data, but the more saw, the more I wanted, and so I've been leaving it going since then.

So we've got June, July, August, September, and just a few days of October here as I'm recording this. And you can see some of those inaccuracies with that one sensor our there, like that. The highs in July, 107 degrees? Uh, no. That would be insane. I think the actual high here was something like 96, or maybe 94, maybe? It's unfortunate the outdoor temperature sensor is so off. The indoor one is perfectly fine, but again, no radiation shield or anything and it really throws it off. That cheaper one that I just got from a random hardware store was much more accurate.

Yeah, that's what this is in terms of these reports. It's pretty much just all variants on the same thing. It's pretty cool though. The even more interesting one to me though is when you go over to the strip charts. Mm! I love a good graph, a good strip chart.

And well, look at this. So you can go daily and look at all kids of different sets of data. [laugh of satisfaction] Oh yeah. You can change all of these to be whatever you want.

Outside temperature, high, low, wind chill, wind speed, high wind speed. Got the barometer and rain over here. So no rain that day. What was a day with a lot of rain? Yeah, there's some rain there. Two in the afternoon. A little bit at nine in the morning. We got all kinds of different sets of information that we can add or remove and span different sets of time. We can zoom in or zoom out.

Let's go to a week at a time here. Look at that. So I love being able to see the temperature and wind chill and other things just going up and down as the sun comes up and comes down. You can very clearly see, that is the evening here, hottest part of the day here, up and down and up and down. I don't know. I like graphs! There was definitely a lot of rain, like we had some leftover hurricane parts, or leftovers coming through.

Definitely not in September. Let's see here, zooming out a bit more. I just love seeing the data come in like that.

[babbles gleefully] Makes me happy. Ooh okay, yeah. So this was an interesting thing. I was, I believe, out of town or something and I had the intervals set too high for the archiving, and it ran out of memory on this day, like the 3rd of August, I guess.

Yeah, by the time I came back and went through and downloaded all the data, there was a big chunk of time that I was just missing. So that's what can happen if this little thing runs out of memory, which it doesn't have a whole lot, so it's easy to do if you have a very high interval. And like I said, you can set the archiving interval -- ah, I can't do it right now, but.

I have it set to, I think, 30 minutes right now, and that's pretty decent. So if something crazy happens within those 30-minute chunks, it of course won't be recording that because it doesn't record everything that happens. It just records all these things you're seeing here, at the moment that it archives something. So let's make a plot here.

Here's another way we can look at some individual sets of data. So let me zoom a bit and just go back to... I'm trying to find a specific point in time where there was just a ton of rain, cuz I thought the information was quite amusing. Oh, yeah. So check this out. August, I think 17th, there. We had so much rain, it was over three inches, and that right there was an interesting day.

Whole lotta wind too. We can see that it got up to gusts, I believe, over 18 miles an hour or so. And yeah, it was quite the storm for a couple days there.

Bunch of rain, flooding, wind. Lighting, of course. [thunder cracks] Honestly, it was pretty awesome. And everything held up just fine in terms of the Weather Station, thankfully. I never had to put anything back together. I mean, it all just held up perfectly fine, did its job recording data through the whole thing.

Good stuff. [rain pattering] [thunder roars] [rain falling, wind blows through trees] Yeah, these were some remnants of one of the hurricanes, or I guess it was a leftover tropical depression at this point, but yeah. One of those things, it just rolled through. Nothing insane but you know, for here, [chuckles] it was kind of a bit. We just don't see that kind of activity terribly often in my area, so it's just neat to have a record of that.

That I recorded myself! On a 486! All these other things in here. Yearly rainfall, degree days, temperature and humidity hours, soil temperature hours. Yeah, you can record all of these kinda things too if you just are recording themself, or... There's a catalog that came in that box somewhere, and there's all kinds of crazy other sensors in here. Yeah, you got the GroWeather, Enviro-something-or-other Monitor, the Health Monitor. Leaf wetness sensors? Solar power kits and grounding kits and other...

Whatever, man. There's all kinds of stuff. But yeah, some of 'em are for soil from what I gather, so you got that in here too. So yeah, that was making a plot. We can also browse the station data, which this is just the individual archives, or the observations that it makes every 30 minutes, and so you can see the intervals right there. And yeah, that's what that is. And then the final thing is the rain database, which, yeah, it's not anything too crazy, but it's nice to see just rain if you're into that.

So we got, yeah, over four inches... Oh, okay. In July. Over six inches in August. This right here, this is actually the auto-download thing, so it's been 30 minutes. It'll start doing the download of the archive [laughs] of the weather that's been happening since I've been recording this section. And then it clears the archive.

It's kinda handy that it did that. So that's the process there. It just happens if you've got your computer turned on and this program running.

And that's that! So that's pretty much it for the Davis Weather Station and the WeatherLink software. And in case you haven't picked up on it, I think this is really cool. It would've been extremely cool in the nineties, but it's still pretty darned interesting now. Especially with the whole aspect of it running on a 486 in Windows 3.1 with these charming dithered graphs and all that. It's wonderful.

And though I won't be keeping it set up, simply because I had it only in a temporary spot -- I would really need to put it somewhere more permanent if I wanted to leave it up all the time, but if I were to do that, I'd probably just go out and get one of their new Weather Stations, because dang it, I kinda really one one of their Vantage Pro2 systems now, or whatever else, I don't know. They have a bunch of different things available. I believe I could actually take the Weather Monitor II and, say, just get the modern wi-fi smart module and connect it to that and then use the same system that I already have here from the '90s and make it so that it's accessible not only on a 486 but on a smartphone or a tablet or whatever, I think. You know, some of the components have been updated, like the rain collector, just to be a little better, so birds aren't taking dumps in it all the time. But yeah, if you've ever used one of these, either back in the day or now, let me know. What's your experience with Weather Stations? I know that there's a lot of really good practical reasons to use it if you've got a business or farm or, I don't know, a vacation home or wine cellar or whatever.

But if you just have one set up for fun, let me know what kind you've got. I'm really curious now. This is kinda sending me down this weird new meteorological addiction, or at least it could be if it gets outta hand. But yeah, that's about it for this episode of LGR! Check out some of my other videos on retro computery things if you liked this, and stay tuned for new videos.

I try to get one up each week. And as always, thank you for watching!

2021-10-10 14:11

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