The live weather webcam installed at my station is a popular feature. Folks enjoy seeing a live time-lapse view of the weather. Some folks just like watching the cows graze in the pasture! Regardless of the interest, the station webcam is an important feature of the weather station and I receive a lot of questions about the installation, camera used, etc. This post will show you the behind the scene details….
I have had several versions of webcams over the years. In the past versions, they have all been prone to various failure modes and were somewhat fussy just to keep running reliably. My latest version has been running well so far for about 6 months with zero issues. Only time will tell how long this particular camera and installation will last. My experience with live webcams is somewhat limited, but I have come to realize that there are two distinct parts to selecting a webcam and so I will cover each part in this post.
Webcams are rapidly changing with new models available constantly. These days one must plan ahead before purchase to get a camera that will work for your particular installation. You must decide first on your ultimate goals; live streaming, time-lapse, self hosted, cloud hosting, IP camera or network camera, power requirements, and a host of other decisions need to be clearly defined before purchase. Using these guidelines that you have previously established will make sure that the particular camera that you select will be able to function the way that you need. Next is cost of course. Most IP cameras will be reasonably priced around $100 USD, with a few exceptions being considerably more or less. The camera that I use was priced around $49 USD . The next point that I considered was the power requirements to operate the camera at a remote location. My station is completely solar powered so I needed a camera that would work on 12VDC to simplify wiring and installation. POE capability could have worked also, but a direct 12VDC input was much preferred. Lastly, I wanted a camera with good resolution, but I later discovered that when using a webcam for looking at distant landscapes and clouds the resolution really wasn’t all that important.
I eventually settled on a BoaVision Model HD22M102M that I purchased from Amazon. This camera met all of my hardware requirements, but it’s ability to FTP still images to a remote server was the deciding factor. Sadly most of the cheaper cameras have omitted this important feature or their software is poorly designed and nearly impossible to easily set up to FTP images on a set schedule. The BoaVision software was an exception as it is very easy to set up FTP services and has so far proven to be reliable when doing so. The camera is not really weatherproof, but I worked around that issue and will cover that in the installation notes a bit further down.
Now that I had still images recorded every five minutes, I needed a way to collect these images and compile them into a short time-lapse and then get them to show up on the station website. This can be quite a challenge as there are many ways to accomplish this, but after trying a myriad of different methods, I decided on the easiest route. I decided to use a commercial service that does all of this for me and pay a small yearly fee. I settled on a company called Webcam.io and they have proven to be a real time saver for me. Their fee is very reasonable, and their service just works very well. My camera uploads the still images to their servers every 5 minutes and then they automatically compile them into a script to show the images on your website using the time display parameters that you want. They provide a piece of HTML code that you can paste into your web page and that’s all there is to it. Easy peasy! Below is a live sample of the time-lapse script;
I found through trial and error that a 1-hour time-lapse segment provided a good view of approaching weather while still loading quickly on the web page.
I mentioned earlier that my camera is not constructed to be completely weatherproof and thus some type of shelter is needed to protect the camera from water intrusion. I designed and built a simple 3-sided box out of plywood and mounted the camera as shown;
So far this has worked very well for protecting the camera through many hard rainstorms and snow, ice, etc. There is the disadvantage of this design curtailing the use of the pan and tilt feature built into the camera. In may case this was not important, as I keep the camera in a fixed position anyway. If I was needing to constantly pan and tilt the camera I would have chosen a completely weatherproof camera (expensive) and mounted it on a pole or something similar to allow for a 360 degree view. I did have a few problems initially with camera shelter causing a glare of the IR lights reflecting back into the camera at night. I solved this by painting the interior of the shelter with flat black paint. I mounted the camera on the side of my station instrument shelter and that made wiring very easy for 12VDC access.
Webcams can be a real asset to a website and viewers seem to really appreciate a live view of things. My site stats show that this webcam view is easily the most viewed part of the entire website. In my case, the cows on our ranch here in Texas are fairly unique (They are Scottish Belted Galloways) and I constantly get questions and remarks about the cows especially whenever baby calves are milling around in view of the camera. I find the live views to be helpful in seeing approaching weather fronts and severe weather whenever I am away from home. My wife who travels extensively for work, looks at the camera view whenever she gets homesick.
If you are considering adding a camera to your website for personal or public use, I would recommend my choice described here. If something changes or I experience a major hardware or software failure I will post an update.