"Pocket Weather Meters"
Be your own weatherman.

By Frank Lanier
Chesapeake Bay Magazine 2003
Offshore Magazine 2003

Envious the likes of Joshua Slocum and Tristan Jones, grizzled sea dogs who could smell the wind and predict the weather by looking at cloud cover and seagull poop? Want to be able to look Biff Spiffington in the eye down at the yacht club’s Tikki Bar and comment nonchalantly “I say old man, the true wind speed on that junket to Bermuda peaked at exactly 70.2 knots, however the apparent wind was a good deal more!”

Well, my meteorologically challenged friend, thanks to modern technology salvation is at hand (literally) in the form of your own handheld anemometer. “Pocket weather meter” would actually be a more accurate description, as all but the most basic units tell much more than just wind speed – kind of like having a two headed clone of Willard Scott and Al Roker in your pants pocket, only lighter and without the birthday shout-outs to centenarians down in Florida.

Compact, affordable, and highly accurate, pocket weather meters place a wide variety weather related data at your fingertips, such as temperature, altitude, humidity, pressure, wind chill, and even heat stress indexes, all in a unit roughly the size of a candy bar. Some models, the Kestrel 4000 for example, can track wind speed in knots, miles per hour, meters per second, kilometers per hour, and the Beaufort Scale. This particular model even displays a comparative graph on its LCD screen and can store up to four months of weather data, enabling users to compare the occurrence of similar factors and generate their own weather prognostications. It also has multiple language displays and a PC download option for long term data storage.

As to sizes and prices, selections range from the 1 oz Skywatch Fun Meter (which claims to be the lightest and least expensive at around $50.00) to the 3.6 oz, 12 function Kestrel 4000, which costs around $300.00. If you’re having trouble deciding on a particular make and model, here are a few features you may want to consider.

Most models are comparable in terms of size, accuracy (+/- 2% to 5%) and how well they function on land, however as with any electronic doo-dad it’s the marine environment that separates the robust from the soon to bust. First choice here should be a waterproof model, preferably one that floats and is brightly colored for easy location and retrieval if dropped overboard. Some models also come with a protective storage case, another plus.

How easy damaged impellers and other parts can be replaced and the type of impeller used is also a consideration. Some models utilize built-in impellers, while others have the familiar multidirectional cups often associated with wind instrumentation. Impellers are less prone to damage in hand held units, however cups eliminate the need to point the unit directly into the wind (hence their use up the mast). Some models, such as the Flowatch F100, come with both cup and impeller attachments. The F100 also has a remote sensor cable, allowing you to measure water as well as air speed.

Power consumption and the type of battery used is also important. Some models require watch batteries, while others use standard AAA types (which may be easier to find at the marina or convenience store). The EOLE anemometer has a solar power cell, allowing use in low light situations or at night by flashlight.

Intuitive, no-brainer operation and easy to read displays with large numbers are additional features to look for, as would be a backlight feature for ease of use after dark. Units with exposed temperature sensor will deliver quicker, more accurate readings (sensors within the unit can pick up warmth from the case) while the capacity to display multiple data readings on the same screen (wind speed and temperature for example) is handy as well. The ability to display peak and average temperatures and wind speed is desirable too, as is memory to retain these readings (many units do not retain data once turned off).

Another alternative is the “hand’s free-hand held option” provided by watch style units. The Speedtech Weather Watch Pro provides windspeed, wind chill, altimeter, thermometer, chronograph, barometer, compass, and stopwatch functions for around $120.00, while the WindMaster WeatherWatch Pro has a backlit display and gives current, average, and maximum windspeed. A highlighted, bright green impeller fin on the WindMaster is magnetized and always points north, allowing you to mechanically determine wind direction – it’s also water resistant to 30 feet and can be detached from the wrist strap and worn on the included neck strap.

Finally, for those worried about that “bolt from the blue” there’s Spectrum Electronics’ Storm Detector, a hand held unit used for lightning detection that, according to the manufacturer’s website, detects storms and provides a 100% accurate estimate of storm speed, arrival time, distance, and intensity out to 75 miles. Let’s see Al or Willard top that, even with a local sample of seagull poop!