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Explaining the cold snap, ordering a weather station

A sweet deal on a weather station becomes slightly less so when fees are added up

Well, one of the longest and coldest cold snaps in a couple of decades has now come and gone. Since several different news outlets have already reported on all the different records and statistics about his cold snap, I am not going to rehash those here. Instead, I thought I should do a quick little explanation of why this occurred.

Cold snaps at any time of the year are caused by either an area of arctic high pressure at the surface, or cold pools of air in the upper atmosphere (an upper low). For this cold air outbreak, we saw a cold upper low (arctic vortex) drop southward and stall out across southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Shortly after this settled in, a large area of arctic high pressure at the surface surged south out of the Yukon. Either one on its own would bring cold weather; put the two together and we were bound to see some record lows. It was this deep nature to the cold air that allowed it to make it so far south and remain cold. The fact that both systems settled in at the same time is just one of those perfect, or not so perfect, combinations of weather features that happen from time to time. While we saw about two weeks of cold weather, for us, I do not think it was that much of a price to pay for the warm weather we saw from November to January.

Sticker shock

Now, on to my adventures in buying a new weather station. Before making my final decision on buying an Ambient Weather Station I felt I should dig around a little to find out what has been going on with Ambient Weather. According to its website, in 2019, Ambient Weather became a part of the Nielsen-Kellerman Co. family of weather brands along with Kestrel Weather and Environmental Instruments and RainWise Professional Weather Stations. This might help explain its movement away from third-party providers, such as Davis, to mostly offering Ambient Weather-branded stations. Both Kestrel and RainWise have solid reputations, making these new offerings from Ambient even more interesting. With this information I felt a little more confident in the build and reliability of this station, but we will see what happens over the next year or two.

While reading through the description of the weather station and trying to figure out which extras I should add on, I ended up getting a little confused about the ultrasonic wind sensor, specifically that it may need a heater in the winter should there be a buildup of ice or snow. One of the options listed was “Add Optional Power Supply for Ultrasonic Anemometer Heating Element.” To me it was unclear if this was simply the power supply for the already built-in heater, or did you need to buy the heater which is listed as an optional item? So, I fired off an email to Ambient, and to give it credit, I received a reply very quickly. Unfortunately, the reply seemed like a quick canned response and did not answer my question — maybe my question was not clear enough. I re-sent a newly worded question and this time the reply answered my question: yes, the optional power supply is all that was needed, as the heating element is built into the anemometer — perfect.

Being satisfied with what I was ordering I placed my order; the only part that made me raise my eyebrow a little bit was the cost of shipping. In a day and age of free shipping, C$65.41 to ship from Arizona to Manitoba seemed a little steep. I took a deep breath and figured with the good price on the station I could handle the higher shipping cost. I entered my information and pressed the order button. By the end of the day, I received an email saying they have received the order and by the following day the order had been shipped and I received an email notification from UPS along with a tracking number. After checking the tracking number, it said it would arrive by Feb. 18.

A few days later the UPS tracking showed that the package was in customs and not too long after that I received another email from UPS indicating I owed $100.55 in taxes and brokerage fees. Yikes! It turns out that $59.90 was taxes, which I kind of expected and I would have had to pay if I were able to buy it locally. What kind of bummed me out was the additional $40.65 in brokerage fees. The Ambient Weather website did point out that they were not responsible for brokerage fees… but still. Put it all together and the shipping and brokerage fees came out to $106.06, which I think is a heck of a lot of money to get a package from the U.S. Maybe someone with more knowledge in this area can explain why this package cost so much while other packages of similar dollar value come in much, much cheaper. I paid up, and the final cost including tax was C$599.65, which included: an indoor colour display; indoor temperature and humidity sensor (which could be placed anywhere in your house); outdoor temperature; humidity; barometer, windspeed/direction; and a rain gauge. I also added in a soil moisture sensor, soil temperature sensor (or any medium you like), and a couple of extra temperature and humidity sensors (put one in the greenhouse). So overall, it is not a bad price if the station lives up to its billing.

In the next issue, another month has come and gone, which means it’s time to look back at February’s weather, then look ahead to see just when spring might start moving in — are we ever going to see some precipitation?

About the author

Co-operator contributor

Daniel Bezte

Daniel Bezte is a teacher by profession with a BA (Hon.) in geography, specializing in climatology, from the U of W. He operates a computerized weather station near Birds Hill Park.

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