Baby, Is It Cold Outside?

Home forecasts go high-tech

Nothing -- with the possible exception of time -- affects the routine of daily life more than the weather. It dictates how you dress, how early you leave for work, and whether you go to that football game. Many of us keep our radios set so we hear the weather report as soon as we wake up. But if you want to know the weather closer to home than the nearest airport, you can get a gadget that tells you what's doing right outside your door.

I installed a $15 Weather Channel indoor/outdoor thermometer from La Crosse Technology. It stores highs and lows, and what time they occurred, for the past 24 hours. I also set up a $500-plus Vantage Pro2 weather station from Davis Instruments in my backyard. It's the top-of-the-line in amateur weather gear, measuring everything from wind speed to rainfall and giving me personal forecasts.

Mostly, high-tech weather reporting has gone wireless: You no longer have to drill a hole in the wall and thread a cable through to read the outdoor temperature from inside the house. All the outside sensors transmit their readings several times a minute to a liquid-crystal display console that sits on a desk or mounts on a wall.

For about $30, you can get thermometers from La Crosse or Oregon Scientific that also measure humidity and keep track of barometric pressure trends. That means they can predict the weather for the next 12 to 20 hours, displaying their forecasts with icons for sunny, partly cloudy, or rain, for example. If you spend $50, they will come with a clock that syncs itself to the U.S. atomic clock in Boulder, Colo. At $100, you can add a rain gauge, or an anemometer to measure wind speed and calculate the wind chill.

More expensive devices track weather variables for longer periods, such as a season's worth of rainfall, and link to a computer for recordkeeping. They also can sound alarms when criteria you set are met, warning you, say, to bring your plants in when frost is predicted. La Crosse's WS-2310 weather station measures pretty much the same things as the rugged Vantage Pro model from Davis. It's just not as sophisticated. But priced at under $200, it's a lot cheaper, too.

If you want to know the weather wherever you go, check out a handheld weather meter. Nielsen-Kellerman makes six models, each the size of a cell phone. They range from a simple wind meter, about $65, good for golfers or windsurfers, to the $250 Kestrel 4000, which can track virtually everything the backyard models do, except for rain. A good bet is the new 2500, which sells for about $150. It's just the gizmo for figuring out the wind chill on the slopes, or the temperature of the hot tub afterward.

By Larry Armstrong

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