Getting METAR weather through APRS

Looking on the APRS Google map one could see that there are not so many weather stations in Romania that hams could use.  Knowing that weather data could be gathered form the airports around the country, I decided to make possible that radioamateurs could use METAR weather information through APRS.

The idea is to make weather stations showing on the APRS map, presenting the METAR data. As one could see further down this article, not all METAR information could be sent through APRS but only the more interesting ones. The software will be presented and provided as open source package under GNU GPL license. The language used is C since the intention is to run the application on small, low power embedded Linux systems like home routers.

Couple of words about METAR, APRS and weather:

It seems to be gathering a large consensus that METAR come from french phrase:  message d’observation météorologique pour l’aviation régulière.

METAR is a way (one could say protocol) to convey weather information mainly for pilots use during pre-flight briefing. However, it is also used in other situations like moving weather data from one point to the other. It could contain many data fields that a pilot may be interested in like temperature, dew point, barometric pressure, visibility, wind speed and direction, runway visibility, etc.

APRS means Automatic Packet Reporting System and is a trademark of Bob Bruniga. It is a protocol able to convey various kind of information over AX25 protocol with primarily target being the radio networks.  Therefore APRS is a layer 3 OSI protocol over AX25 link layer. It uses AX25 somehow different in some details I will explain below.

Weather APRS message could include Latitude and Longitude, Wind direction/ Wind speed, Wind gusts speed, temperature, rain, last hour, rain last 24 hours, rain since midnight, humidity, barometric pressure.  Beside those information it could include a timestamp and possible some other arbitrarily message.

Looking at METAR and APRS weather messages one could see that some conversions are needed beside the fact that not all METAR information could fit in the APRS message. One example of such conversion is the wind speed which in METAR could be given in mph, knots, kmph but in APRS they should be given as mph.

Another mismatch between METAR and APRS is that METAR seems not to provide relative humidity (RH), therefore one need to calculate the RH from temperature and dew point. I used Magnus-Tetens formula to calculate RH and since it needs some floating point arithmetic it will need to be adapted when  running on embedded systems without hardware/software floating point.

The weather stations are identified using IDs given by different authorities. For example there could be ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) which is four letters ID (e.g. LROP) and WMO (World Meteorological Organization) which is a 5 digit number ID. Unfortunately, only weather data from stations having ICAO ID is provided on the NoAA servers (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in US. I would very much like to know how to access the data from stations listed only with WMO ID.

Being able to add text message to the normal APRS weather message made me add some more information from METAR like DEW point, prevail visibility and whether is CAVOK or not. CAVOK means Ceiling And Visibility OK.

How metarAPRS program works:

In short, the program accesses the NoAA ftp server, gets the latest METAR data from there, converts the relevant fields to APRS and sends it to the local PC Ax25 stack or directly to APRS-IS servers. When using the AX25 stack, the weather data could be output to a radio and when using APRS-IS servers connection, the data is fed directly to the servers through a TCP/IP connection.

A typical METAR message looks like:

date: 2010/10/31 14:30
METAR: LRBM 311430Z 00000KT CAVOK 14/02 Q1018

metarAPRS program has a configuration file ~/.metar-aprs/data.csv which needs to have listed all the station one needs to show on the APRS map. The ID (callsign in APRS parlance) of the station could be entered and also the position of the station needs to be added since it is not given by the METAR data. However, the position could be obtained by using following link: www.nws.noaa.gov/tg/siteloc.shtml

A typical line in the configuration file looks like this:

LRBM-1, LRBM, 4740.00N/02335.00E – where LRBM-1 is the APRS callsign given to the station and LRBM is the ICAO ID for the station.

System configuration for metarAPRS:

If using a direct connection to one APRS-IS server, there is no need for an IGate. Just the proper command line options needs to be given. For example if one need to connect to the server france.aprs2.net:14580, using password “1234″ and callsign YO3IIU-10, the following command needs to be given:

metarAPRS -s france.aprs2.net -n 14580 -w 1234 -c YO3IIU-10

If want to use ax25 option in order to send the weather to a radio connected to your system, one needs to have an AX25 port configured. It is done by having axports (/etc/ax25/axports) filled in with the needed information (see man axports for details). For example, this is one line my axports file has:

sm0 YO3IIU 9600 256 7 144.800 APRS (9600 bps)

The port is sm0 and the callsign of the interface in this case is YO3IIU.

Now you need to initialize the port:

kissattach /dev/ttyS0 sm0 192.168.1.200

If all went smoothly you will see an interface called ax0 when listing existing interfaces on your system.

If you’ve already used soundmodem then you don’t need to do anything since the Ax25 is already configured.

Using an IGate:

One could use any IGate he/she has access to. I use aprsd but the most interesting application is XASTIR (www.xastir.org). It is not an IGate “per se” but it has this functionality among other features I like at it.  One of the best features it has is the ability to use the OSM (Open Street Maps) – www.openstreetmap.org directly in it’s latest version from svn.

For XASTIR you need to configure one internet interface and one Ax25 TNC interface with sm0 as port.

Options for metarPRS:

I’ve added couple of command line options to the program and they could be seen in the help.

$ metarAPRS –help
Usage: metar-aprs [OPTONS]

-h –help                  help
-V –verbose          verbose
-v –version            version
-p –port                   port
-d –destination    destination (default IDENT)
-i –interval             interval (minutes)
-a –ax25                  use ax25 stack instead of direct connection
-s –server                APRS-IS server name
-n –server-port     APRS-IS server port
-w –pass                   APRS-IS server password
-c –callsign             callsign used for server login

Practical results:

Screen shot of one METAR weather station when using the direct server connection ( you could see the TCPIP*,qAS construct which means data comes from a direct connection):

Screen shot of the same METAR weather station when using Ax25 stack. The data now comes from a radio link (see the qAR construct):

After setting data file, configuring the Ax25 and the IGate, one will just need to run metarAPRS. Here are some screenshots with METAR weather stations showing on APRS map in both web browser and XASTIR:

Screenshot showing the wisibility data:

XASTIR screenshot with Open Street Map:

Things TODO:

- use other sources of weather data (what about WMO source or RSS feed?)

- find a way to show more data

- daemonize the application

Source code released as Open Source under GNU GPL license:

metarAPRS application sourcecode (v01): metarAPRS.tar.gz

metarAPRS application sourcecode (v02): metarAPRS_02.tar.gz

metarAPRS application sourcecode (v03): metarAPRS_03.tar.gz


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