DIY Weather Station
Discovery Place Science
This time of year, the weather can be quite unpredictable. In this activity, learners will investigate different types of weather instruments and make their own at-home mini weather station, complete with an anemometer, barometer and weather vane. But first, let’s consider what these instruments tell us about weather.
Weather is the condition of the air, or atmosphere, at a certain time and place. It describes the level of heat or cold, wetness or dryness, calm or storminess, cloudiness or clearness. Meteorologists are scientists who study the conditions in the earth’s atmosphere to forecast and help us understand the weather. They use instruments such as anemometers, barometer and weather vanes to study the different conditions that affect weather.
An anemometer is a tool that measures wind speed. Wind speed is important when predicting weather patterns because wind moves heat as well as moisture from one place to another. Anemometers are used in collaboration with weather vanes.
Weather vanes measure the wind direction, or where the wind is coming from – the north, south, east or west.
A barometer measures air pressure as air rises or sinks in the atmosphere. When air rises, low pressure is created which can cause clouds, rain or storms. As air sinks, the pressure increases, which usually leads to calm weather.
Now that we understand a little more about these weather instruments, let’s get to building them. You can choose one weather instrument to make or build all three!
This activity will take anywhere from 10-30 minutes of preparation and will provide about 30 minutes to an hour of learning time. It is best suited for students in elementary and middle school.
- 5 small paper cups (3 oz. bathroom cups work best)
- Scissors or hole punch
- Duct tape
- 2 straws
- 1 pencil with eraser
- Push pin or small nail
- Empty water bottle or cup (optional)
- Weight for bottle (sand, dirt, small rocks, etc.) (optional)
- Use a hole punch or scissors to make one hole into the side of 4 cups (about ½ inch below the rim of the cups). Caution: Be careful if using scissors.
- Use a hole punch or scissors to make 4 evenly spaced holes into the 5th cup (about ¼ inch below the rim of the cup). This will be the center of your anemometer.
- Insert your two straws into the holes of the center cup to make an “X” shape.
- Use tape to securely attach the other 4 cups to the ends of the straws, ensuring that all the cups are pointing in the right direction. Try to make the cups evenly spaced out from the center cup.
- Use scissors or a sharp pencil to carefully punch a hole through the bottom of the center cup and push the eraser end of the pencil through the bottom of the cup until it meets the “X.” Push the pin through the center of the “X” into the eraser; this is the rotation axis. Spin the pin and pencil a few times to make sure it can move easily.
- Optional: To create a base for your anemometer, fill the empty water bottle or cup with a weight and place the center dowel into the middle of your container.
- To use your anemometer, place it in an area where it will easily catch wind. You can blow air or use a fan to test your anemometer. Want to calibrate your anemometer? Ask your parent or guardian to drive you down the street at 10 miles per hour. Hold your anemometer out the window and count how many times it spins in 30 seconds. In the future, you can use this number to calculate wind speed. For example, if your anemometer spun around 10 times in 30 seconds in the car, later if you count 10 spins in 30 seconds that means the wind speed is 10 miles per hour!
DIY Weather Vane
- 2 paper plates
- Modeling clay
- Weight for plates (sand, dirt, small rocks, etc.)
- Glue (hot glue works best, but you can use regular craft glue as well)
- Cardboard or other sturdy material
- Plastic or paper straw
- New pencil
- Push pin or small nail
- To make the base of your weather vane, place a small ball of molding clay in the middle of one plate and put small rocks or other weight around the rest of the plate. Put a small hole through your second plate (large enough for the pencil to fit through). Flip the plate upside down and glue it to the bottom plate.
- Cut 4 small triangles (around 2-inch sides) and label each with an N, S, E, W. These will be your directions. Glue them to the edges of your base the way you would see them on a compass.
- Cut two identical small slits on each end of the straw. This will be used to make the weather vane arrow.
- To make the tail end of your arrow, cut a 4-inch triangle out of cardboard then cut off the tip of the triangle to make a trapezoid. Attach it into the slit on one end of your straw using tape or glue.
- To make the pointer end of your arrow, cut a 3-inch triangle out of cardboard. Attach it into the slit at the opposite end of you arrow using tape or glue.
- Put the pencil into the base and push firmly into the molding clay. The eraser end should be pointing up.
- Position the straw arrow so it is centered on the pencil eraser and use the push pin to connect the middle of the straw to the pencil eraser. Spin it a few times to make sure it turns easily.
- To use your weather vane, place it in an area where it will easily catch wind. Use a compass (or compass phone app) to correctly position the directions on your vane. The pointer of your arrow will point in the direction the wind is coming from.
- Wide-mouth glass jar (mason jar, clean pasta sauce jar, etc.)
- Large balloon
- Strong rubber band or string
- 2 straws or thin, wooden dowel
- Sheet of paper
- Duct tape or glue
- Cardboard (optional)
- Cut the neck off the balloon and stretch it over the opening of your glass jar. The tighter the fit, the better. Use a rubber band or string to tightly secure the balloon onto the jar. We don’t want any air getting in or out.
- To make your pointer, gently push one straw into the other to make a sturdy long straw or use a thin wooden dowel. Tape or glue a toothpick to one end. A longer straw will give us better measurements.
- Tape or glue the other end of the straw onto the middle of the balloon. Glue tends to work better, just be sure to hold the straw in place until the glue dries.
- Tape a sheet of paper to a wall or create a stand for the paper using cardboard. Position your barometer indoors so that the toothpick just reaches your sheet of paper. Mark a line on your paper noting where the pointer hits. Check back on your barometer regularly. If the pointer goes up, that means higher pressure, and if it goes down, that means lower pressure.
- If you want to calibrate your barometer, check your local barometric readings online. Mark your at-home barometer with measurements daily until you start getting a good array of measurements on your sheet. A reading of 30in is considered “normal.” Try to make sure the temperature in your house is the same every time you take the reading for best results.
How does it work?
When you placed the balloon over the jar, you trapped air inside the jar. This air has a certain amount of pressure to it, which at that time was equal to the air pressure in the rest of the atmosphere. As the air pressure of the atmosphere changes, it caused the pressure on the balloon to change, causing the pointer to move. As the pressure in the atmosphere increases, the balloon is forced down, causing the pointer to go up. If the pressure in the atmosphere decreases the balloon can expand, causing the pointer to go down.
How to adjust for younger and older learners
Have young learners pretend to be meteorologists, and practice reading the instruments forecasting the weather in their very own weather news segment. Watch this video from PBS on clouds. Ask young learners what kind of clouds they see in the sky during their weather report.
For older learners, research other types of weather instruments such as rain gauges, thermometers, and hygrometers to add to your weather station. Keep track of your instrument reading over the course of 2-3 weeks. What weather patterns do you notice? Want to take your weather station to the next level? Research the use of electronics such as Arduinos to create your own high-tech weather station. Arduino has a compilation of various DIY weather projects to get you started!