Automated Weather Stations (AWS)

Automated weather stations aren’t just a toy for weather bloggers and enthusiasts. In fact, automatic weather stations are at the core of many critical functions for organizations both big and small.

But what exactly is an automatic/automated weather station (AWS)? How do they work? Scroll through this guide to find outf or click the topic that interests you most to get started.

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What is an Automatic Weather Station?

EArth Networks weather station in California

First, we have to answer: “What is a weather station?”

A weather station is a system of integrated components that automatically measure, record, and sometimes transmit weather data.

An automated weather station is an automatic version of a traditional weather station. They can be single-site or part of a weather network. Automatic weather stations are the worldwide standard for climate and boundary-layer meteorology. 

These stations most commonly report on surface weather observations like:

red check mark 1. Temperature

red check mark 2. Wind Speed

red check mark 3. Wind Direction

red check mark 4. Precipitation

red check mark 5. Humidity

red check mark 6. Solar Radiation

red check mark 7. Atmospheric Pressure

red check mark 8. Visibility

This isn’t a complete list of measurements, but these are some of the most common. Depending on the weather station, they can also measure things like cloud height. It all depends on a station’s components.


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How an Automated Weather Station Works

Now that you know what an automatic weather station is, you’re ready to learn how it works.

At the most basic level, an automatic weather station works by measuring atmospheric conditions and transmitting them to a network, forecaster, or display.

They use special instruments to measure the surface weather observations we mentioned above. Some parts of a weather station include a thermometer to measure temperature and a barometer to measure atmospheric pressure. We list out all the different parts and what they do in the weather sensor section below, so keep reading!

Depending on the provider and model, there are several components that make up a station. Each component enables the weather station to measure and transmit different atmospheric data. Some common equipment typical for automatic weather stations include:

red check mark 1. Weather Sensor

red check mark 2. Lightning Sensor

red check mark 3. Sensor Shelter

red check mark 4. Rain Gauge

red check mark 5. Data-Logger/Network Appliance

red check mark 6. Weather Display

red check mark 7. Weather Camera

1. Weather Sensor

Although “weather sensor” sounds pretty broad, most weather sensors just measure wind speed and direction.

The part of the weather instrument that measures wind speed is called the anemometer. The part that measures wind direction is the wind vane.

Our weather stations use a vane style anemometer, so basically, it’s one instrument that measures both.

Wind speed and direction is an important part of any weather station because these data points help us understand the direction weather systems are moving and how soon they will reach a location.

2. Lightning Sensor

The next piece of an automatic weather station is a lightning sensor.

While lightning sensors are optional, any comprehensive weather station includes one. This is because lightning sensors are a key safety tool. Make sure your automated weather station has a total lightning sensor, so you don’t miss a strike.

Total lightning – or the combination of in-cloud and cloud-to-ground lightning strikes – is necessary to help you understand storm severity. For example, storm cells with high frequencies of in-cloud lightning indicate other severe weather like tornadoes, hail, and downbursts.

Lightning sensors themselves are cylinder-shaped instruments that include a circuit board. The most efficient lightning alerts comes from total lightning sensors that are part of a larger lightning network. When connected to a total lightning network, these sensors produce less false and missed alarms.

We use network-based lightning detection to triangulate individual lightning strikes, send life-saving lightning alerts, and determine storm strength. You can learn more about the process of lightning detection and how a weather station’s lightning sensors contribute in our lightning detection guide.


3. Sensor Shelter

Another weather sensor component is the sensor shelter. While this might just sound like a protection for automated weather stations, it’s actually one of the most instrument-heavy pieces.

The sensor shelter is where automatic weather stations house the following equipment:

  • Temperature with thermometers
  • Relative humidity with hygrometers
  • Dew point with hygrometers
  • Barometric pressure with barometers
  • Heat index with thermometers and hygrometers (Heat index = temperature + humidity)
  • Wind chill with thermometers and anemometers (Wind chill is the cooling wind velocity brings to a given temperature)
  • Wet bulb globe temperature with hygrometers, thermometers, pyranometers, and anemometers (WBGT = humidity + temperature + solar radiation + wind speed + sun angle)


4. Rain Gauge

Red raindrop icon on a grey circle backgroundThe next important and easy-to-understand piece of any automatic weather sensor is a rain gauge. Rain gauges measure the liquid-equivalent precipitation. A rain gauge looks like a bucket or wide, vertical cylinder.

Weather stations that have rain gauges can tell you how much rain or snow has fallen in a given time period. The rain gauges on our automated weather stations here at Earth Networks will tell you the following:

  • Daily rainfall total
  • Daily rainfall average
  • Weekly rainfall total
  • Weekly rainfall average
  • Yearly rainfall total
  • Yearly rainfall average

5. Data-Logger/Network Appliance

Two pieces of automatic weather stations that work hand-in-hand are data-loggers and network appliances. These systems work together in an automated step-by-step process.

First, they measure the data from your sensors. Then they process that data and store it. Finally, the network appliance transmits that data to things like your weather display, apps, and alerts.

It’s good to look for weather stations that have network appliances with extended battery life just in case the power goes out. Our network appliances have a 72-hour backup battery life and automatically reboots as needed to ensure you always have the data you’re paying for.

6. Weather Display

Almost all weather stations have some display. Even personal stations that weather enthusiasts have at their homes often have a digital display somewhere.

Professional-grade automated weather stations typically come with much more robust displays. For example, our commercial-grade weather station can be connected to an HD display that shows everything from current conditions to the weekly forecast.

The Online Weather Center for Lely High School

We also recommend using a weather station that has an online weather display as well. Online weather centers ensure access to weather information from anywhere. These are especially helpful when they combine current observations, forecasts, live video, and historical data.

7. Weather Camera

One last component of a weather station is a weather camera. Not every weather station has a weather camera. However, weather cameras are an added bonus that show live images and connect communities.

While some people keep their camera feeds to themselves, others share them with local news stations. This is typically a win-win, as local news stations love live images of the surrounding area and organizations love the exposure the news gets them!

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Advantages of Using an Automated Weather Station

Most people who purchase or rent a weather station want one that will help them accomplish their organizational goals. It doesn’t matter if it’s a country club trying to protect golfers, a school trying to engage students with STEM topics, or an emergency management department trying to predict damaging storms. All organizations need the best of the best when it comes to weather stations.

Earth Networks Weather Station on a sunny day

This is why many businesses across all sectors choose automatic weather stations. Automated weather stations are an integral part of the world’s forecasting and monitoring systems. In fact, automatic weather stations have key advantages over older, manual weather stations, including:

  • Accurate Measurements
  • Low Power Requirements
  • Proven Reliability


Accurate Measurements

Red thermometer iconThe first major advantage of using an automated weather station is the accuracy of measurements.

Current weather and forecasts can change fast. Automated weather stations keep you up to date.

One downfall of using a manual or traditional weather station is that you’re relying on a person to get measurements. Automatic weather stations completely eliminate the risk of human error. Not only that, but the technology ensures you get regular and frequent updates. Some automatic weather stations can update every few minutes. Now that’s real-time weather data!

Another way these stations can be more accurate is with expert calibration. For example, our team of meteorologists spend plenty of time calibrating our weather stations. What that means is basically they check that everything is working correctly. That ensures our weather network is of the highest quality. If something seems off, they flag that station until it’s checked and repaired.


Low Power Requirements

lightning bolt in a circle, red iconThe next advantage of an automatic weather station is its low power requirements. Automatic weather stations can operate from solar panels, wind turbines, and even mobile phone technology.

This feature makes it perfect for remote locations. Think about it. Weather happens everywhere in the world, even where robust electric grids are not available. You can use basically any power supply to operate an automatic weather station. These are very flexible instruments!

With the right field technician in charge, you can install one of these stations pretty much anywhere.

Proven Reliability

The last advantage of an automatic weather station is its reliability. While things can go wrong with one of these weather stations, they don’t require any routine maintenance. Like we mentioned before, it helps when stations are backed by a team of meteorologists or other calibrators.

Meteorologist on call at Earth Networks HQ

Another feature that increases reliability of automated weather stations is connecting them to a network. If your station goes offline you can access other nearby stations. Our global weather network has 17,500+ hyperlocal weather sensors that everyone can access.


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Weather Stations for Schools 

Red school building iconWhile weather stations can benefit any organization, one of the most popular use cases is a school weather station. There are number of reasons why schools install automated weather stations. The three biggest reasons are for student safety, event planning, and STEM education.

If you’re a school looking to install a weather station or you already have one, this section is for you!


Student Safety and Event Planning

Red alert iconOne of the main reasons districts install school weather stations is for the safety and planning benefits. Between everyday school functions, sports programs, and other events, there are a lot of weather-related risks that can threaten students, faculty, visitors, and equipment. A school weather station can give decision-makers like superintendents, principals, and athletic directors the vital information they need to keep everyone on campus safe.

This is where having a lightning sensor becomes vitally important. Lightning sensors let schools know when dangerous storms are coming. Most schools pair their automated weather station with a lightning horn and strobe system for automatic alerting.

STEM Learning

The Earth Networks STEM learning data sheetWeather stations don’t just help increase safety, they also increase STEM learning and exploration in the classroom. Sometimes it can be difficult for teachers to engage students on subjects like meteorology, data mining, and the scientific method. Having a weather station on campus is sometimes all teachers need to get their students engaged!

Our school weather stations come with lesson plans and integrate with the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program. Our school weather stations automatically send real-time weather data to the GLOBE Program so that students can utilize their data mining integrations, teachers can access personalized curriculum, and the entire GLOBE community can enjoy hyperlocal weather data.

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Airport Weather Stations

A circular red icon of an airplaneLike we mentioned above, there are a lot of different organizations that love automatic weather stations. Another popular location for these stations is airports.

The airport operations industry, including airlines and fixed-based operators (FBOs) as well, benefits greatly from on-site weather stations. Automatic, hyperlocal observations help airports, airlines, and FBOs increase efficiency and safety in the air and on the tarmac.

Believe it or not, people on the ground are in far more danger from lightning, high winds, and hail than those in the air. We have the ultimate lightning guide for airport operations to keep everyone in the industry safe.

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Automated Weather Station Conclusion

If you’re going to install a weather station or stations at your organization, you have to go with an automatic weather station.

Automated weather stations measure all the important surface weather observations. They also offer accurate forecasting options.

These stations are better than traditional ones because they provide accurate and frequent readings, have low power requirements, and can operate practically anywhere.

If you want to learn more about how automatic weather stations fit into a weather solution for your facility, check out our buying guides.  Be sure to click the industry that best fits your organization.

Click here to browse our buying guides so you can read the one that makes the most sense for your industry and learn what an effective severe weather alerting solution looks like for you!

If you still have automatic weather station questions, be sure to reach out on social media or shoot us an email at!

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