Best Rain Gauge of 2020
It is pretty satisfying to sit by the window, warm and dry with a cup of cocoa and see the inches tally up. The AcuRite Wireless outdoor sensor and indoor monitor affords you that luxury. You can also skip emptying it. Rain drops into a funnel at the top of the sensor, then drips into a small cup known as a "bucket." When the bucket fills, it drops to dump the water out of the senor, and another seesaws up to catch the stream. The process then repeats, with the sensor missing nary. Meanwhile, the indoor monitor provides a wealth of information. You can look at rain totals in inches or millimeters as they accrue for the day or glance back at the totals from the day before, the past seven days, or past months. It also gives you the total annual rainfall to-date. As an added bonus, you can set up an alarm to notify you if rainfall totals cross a certain threshold, handy if you're in flash flood territory. The sensor is easy to mount on the wall and also comes with an independent stand. Set up is simple and intuitive.
On the downside, this wireless gauge is more expensive than most manual options, and you'll need to keep the batteries fresh. You also have to be careful where you place the sensor and monitor. Their communication fails if they are separated by over 100 feet or have considerable metal or a thick wall between them. They should both be located at least three feet from other electronics like microwaves, radios, and computers. And the monitor only holds rainfall amounts for the last 13 months, grouped into monthly totals. So if you're looking for longterm data or daily data over time, you'll need to keep separate records. Cornell University's Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA) recommends checking this type of tipping bucket rain gauge against a manual gauge regularly since they can drift out of calibration over time. If you notice it diverging, you'll need to follow the detailed Acurite instructions to recalibrate the device. If you're willing to work a little in dry weather to stay indoors when it's wet, this is your best bet.
If you need precise rain measurements over 100 feet away from your house, which would rule out the digital options, the Stratus Precision Gauge is your best bet. It also holds 11 inches of rain, enough to give you time to dump it in between even severe storms. This manual gauge is made of sturdy plastic. The opening is just over four inches across, the minimum benchmark for the most accurate manual gauges. The mounting plate is straightforward to place and keeps the gauge secure, but the cylinder slides out easily when it's time to take a measurement. The unique system fills a small inner cylinder first, measuring just one inch of rain to one-hundredth of an inch. After the first inch of rainfall, the water spills into the larger cylinder. To measure the rest, dump out the first inch and use the lid as a funnel to measure the rest with the inner gauge. Simply remove the funnel and inner tube to capture snow or hail, then melt and measure it. If any part gets lost, you can order it individually from the company.
The process requires patience and care if you need precise measurements. Because of this, it works well for farmers, researchers, or as a science class accessory for school-age kids. It's undeniably fun (for our nerdy testers) to sit on the damp, post-storm ground and carefully measure each drop. The key is pouring the water slowly, so you don't overfill the funnel and then the inner cylinder, spilling a portion of the rain. Stratus claims that this is the official gauge used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Weather Service. If you don't mind or actually enjoy this type of hands-on measurement, you'll be rewarded with the most accurate and precise readings from a high volume rain gauge that will stand up to the weather.
It's hard to think of an easier way to set up a rain gauge. Just plant the La Crosse Easy Read's four-inch plastic spike in the ground and be done with it. While we chose to install it in the dirt, you can hang the gauge almost as easily on two screws. Placing it higher would make it easier to read without removing it, but you'll have to pick it up to dump it anyway, so we didn't mind. The water has a magnifying effect on the measurement numbers, making it even easier for our testers to read the measurements. And we like that the Easy Read marks off every tenth of an inch.
Since this gauge is easy to place in the ground, it's more likely that you'll place this gauge in a garden, near vegetation that could shield it from some of the rainfall, particularly if it's windy. Combine this possibility with the reality that the semi-circle opening measures just 3.1 inches by 1.3 inches, and you're not going to be getting top of the line accuracy out of this little guy. But it does give you a very good idea of rain totals in your specific area, with minimum fuss, and we love that you can move it around all over your property without having to remount a bracket. The best rain gauge, at the end of the day, is one that you'll use, especially when it comes at an accessible price.
The EZRead Jumbo gauge is aptly named. It's like a storybook hand-me-down version from your friendly neighborhood giant. The manufacturer claims that you can read the oversized numbers from up to 50 feet away, and when we tested it out, we could accurately read gross measurements from that distance. As such, it is a good manual gauge option if you want to see how much rain you're getting without stepping outside. Just place it by a window, and you're good to go. The mount requires four screws and a wooden post. When you empty it, which you should do each day in the morning if you're tracking daily totals, simply pinch the plastic holder out of a loop below the mount, pull out the plastic tube, and dump it. The small strainer holes that keep debris out also slow the water down as you dump it, but it's no big deal. The funnel is over four inches wide, which means it's among the most accurate manual gauges, according to Cornell University.
Unfortunately, the gauge doesn't provide very precise measurements to go along with that accuracy. It only measures your rainfall at quarter-inch intervals. If you need to know your rainfall totals to the tenth of an inch, you're out of luck with this option. The other downside to this gauge is that the plastic is very thin. Our lead tester had one of these rain gauges growing up. The numbers faded, and the funnel cracked under the type of UV exposure you get in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. It happened over five or so years, but if you live in a high UV location in the western mountains, or just like your tools to last, you may want to go with a more durable option. If you're in a low lying location with plenty of atmosphere and lots of cloudy days, we think you'll enjoy this straightforward gauge longer.
Made in Australia, the sturdy OutdoorHome gauge is a great option if you like to measure using the metric system. Every tick equals one millimeter. The gauge has many other positive attributes, too. The thick plastic container feels sturdy enough to last a good long while, and the raised plastic letters and tick marks are not susceptible to wearing off with time and UV exposure. The simple mounting mechanism is easy to install, and the gauge slides on and off easily with one hand whenever you want to read or empty it.
The raised plastic can be hard to see in some light, making the gauge challenging to read. The narrow opening, a 2.5" by 2.5" square, also makes it harder for rain to find its way into the gauge when it's windy. And the mounting plate is at the very top of the gauge, so it's also hard to mount the opening much higher than the post it's mounted to. That means that rain that lands on the post could splash into the gauge and potentially inflate your measurements. The best mounts position the rain gauges so that their openings are about six inches above the attachment point. It's not going to ruin your reading, but it doesn't help attain absolute precision. Still, if you're looking for quick metric readings to give you an idea of how much precipitation you're getting, this will do.
This AcuRite gauge is super similar to the La Crosse Easy Read option. You can stick both straight into the ground, which makes it crazy easy to set up and to move around your yard at will. They also both give you the option to mount them on a post or deck with two screws towards the bottom of the gauge. That makes it easy to keep the opening well out of the splash zone of whatever you're mounting to. Both magnify the measuring numbers through the water, making them easy to see.
The big difference is, while the La Crosse has ten tick marks between every inch, giving you straightforward readings to the tenth of an inch, the AcuRite gives you only eight. That means every delineation is one-eighth of an inch. That's just harder math, in our opinion. We know that it's good for our brains to practice this relatively simple task in our heads, but that doesn't stop us from resenting it at times. If you don't mind it, though, this is another simple, inexpensive option.
We appreciate the original design of the La Crosse Waterfall. If you set it up close to the window, you may well appreciate its unique look and its focus on displaying the rain as it falls. It's a simple task to mount the bracket on a flat wooden surface with a few screws. It's also among the easiest to read gauges while it's still hanging, otherwise, you have to be careful to hold it still and level to get an accurate reading. Marked every tenth of an inch, the measurements are easy to understand, and the bright red marker is easy to see.
The numbers are dark, thin, and printed on a translucent water tank. They can be hard to read against some backgrounds. And, while it's easy to pull the tank out of the bracket to dump it, you do need to use two hands. Many manual gauges take just one to grab and empty them, so we noticed the difference. You also have to either get your hands wet to grab the floating red bar or dump it with the water and pick it up after the fact. On occasion, when you drop the bar back into the gauge, it suctions to the side of the tank, refusing to drop back to the bottom. We also don't expect that this gauge to be very accurate. Its opening is 7.25 inches long but only 1.25 inches across. If the wind is blowing much at all, that is a narrow opening to hit. If you just want a general idea of how much it's raining, and like the look of this gauge, it will work just fine for you.
The Ecowitt High Precision is a digital gauge that gives you a lot of wet weather information from the comfort of your warm, dry home. The main display is the rain rate, or how much rain is falling per hour, or day, based on how hard it's coming down at the moment. There's also a bar chart on the left-hand side to show the rate in graphical form. The secondary display shows you the more typical measurement of rainfall totals for the day, or, if you choose, the week, the month, or the year. The Rain buttons on the right will cycle through this information, and the History button gives you access to 24 months of past rainfalls. You can set it to display rainfall in inches or millimeters, and you can set a rainfall alert. The digital gauge also gives you the time, date, inside temperature, and humidity. The sensor itself operates by funneling rainfall into a single "bucket" that dumps the water out once it's counted, so you never have to remember to empty the gauge. Its catchment disk is a little over seven inches in diameter, large enough to increase the likelihood that a representative amount of rain will be counted.
If all that sounds complicated, that's because it is. It's more information than we feel most folks want or need, in formats (like the rain rate) that we don't really know what to do with. The Ecowitt's set up guide is also less intuitive than that of the AcuRite digital option. We couldn't get the first sensor we bought to pair with the internal monitor, either, which was disappointing. After trying all the troubleshooting options mentioned in the manual, it simply says: If the rainfall data is still showing dashes (--) after 3 minutes, the remote sensor is defective. If it happens enough to mention it in the manual, that's a bad sign. The second unit we tried paired on the first try, but setting up the monitor still felt overly complicated. There are no instructions included to recalibrate your rain gauge. Given our trouble acquiring a sensor that works and setting the system up, we'd go with the AcuRite option every time.
Why You Should Trust Us
Clark Tate has been fascinated by the weather since a tornado rounded the bases of her elementary school's t-ball diamond while she huddled in the basement next door. She ended up earning a Master's degree in environmental science (with an ecology and planning focus), which included meteorology courses where she poured over topics like moist adiabatic lapse rates, and she can certainly tell when it's actually raining. And when you're raised in a family of farmers like she was, you're always watching the weather.
After we put in thorough research into rain gauge design and options on the market, we ordered up the products and sent them to Clark. She mounted the monitors around her garden/mini-farm to keep them away from the influences of trees and buildings. She then took readings every morning through the course of two multi-day tropical storms that rolled through. After measuring the openings of each gauge to get a sense of how well they would capture rain in windy weather, she paid close attention to how easy it was to read and record the measurements from each contender. She also made note of how simple or challenging each one was to take down and empty. For the two digital and wireless sensors, she scrolled through all their measurement options and compared their ease of use. She then scrutinized the construction of each one to see how long they're liable to last.
Analysis and Test Results
We gotta say that we love rain gauges. How cool is it that free clean water falls from the sky? Monitoring it well can tell you everything from how often you should water your garden to which rivers are likely to be running. Keep reading to find the right tool to start your weather watching journey as we dissect the key performance metrics we used to evaluate each model with hands-on testing.
Accuracy and Precision
Rainfall varies by micro-location, and one gauge placed within a few meters of another may give you a different reading. Wind can also affect your results by blowing rain sideways against your gauge instead of letting it fall in. According to Cornell University's Network for Environment and Weather Applications (NEWA) manual, gauges with a four-inch diameter or more are highly accurate. Gauges with an eight-inch diameter are the gold standard used by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration, but they are more expensive, awkward, and rare.
Of the manual gauges we tested, the Stratus Precision and EZRead Jumbo gauges have a four-inch collection diameter. We expect these to be more accurate than the other manual options. The Stratus provides much more precise measurements between the two since it measures to one-hundredth of an inch. The EZRead only measures every quarter-inch of rainfall.
The digital gauges, the AcuRite Wireless and Ecowitt Digital gauges are both very precise, measuring rainfall to one one-hundredth of an inch. Of the two, the Ecowitt has a larger collection area. Its disk measures 7.2 inches in diameter. The AcuRite, in contrast, measures 7 inches across and 2.5 inches deep. So the Ecowitt is likely less susceptible to inaccuracies caused by slanted rainfall. Both were in line with our manual gauges during our tests and seemed to be quite accurate. The accuracy of digital gauges, in general, are known to drift over time. The AcuRite version gives detailed instructions for how to recalibrate when this occurs. The Ecowitt does not.
To get the most accurate readings, record measurements at the same time of day. The morning is best before evaporation ramps up for the day. Then dump them out. The OutdoorHome gauge recommends that you get two gauges to place about 20 feet apart so you can average the readings in case one was affected by factors like wind.
NEWA does assure us that even manual gauges that aren't four inches in diameter are fairly accurate, and that accuracy is mostly a function of the user. How well do you place your rain gauge, and how careful are you when you read it? For that reason, we expect the OutdoorHome, AcuRite Easy Read, and La Crosse Easy Read to be accurate enough to help you satisfy your curiosity, or manage your landscaping or garden.
Of these, the La Crosse Easy Read is the most precise for imperial measurements, since it measures rainfall to a tenth of an inch. The OutdoorHome option is very precise if you use the metric system, as each demarcation is one millimeter. For both the OutdoorHome and AcuRite, each tick mark is an awkward measurement to tally.
Ease of Use
Using digital monitors involves more work up front, but they are easier to use day-to-day, mostly because they dump themselves. The manual monitors just require a few screws to install, but you need to dump them and record the data (if you care to) every time it rains.
If you're looking for a digital option, the AcuRite is easier to set up and use than the Ecowitt. The AcuRite uses just two screws to secure it to a flat wooden base. You need to find a pole with the proper circumference to attach the Ecowitt and screw on the slightly awkward disk. Otherwise, as long as the Ecowitt's sensor is functional, adding batteries and pairing both devices is fairly straightforward. When it comes to reading data from the two, the AcruRite is more intuitive, cycling easily through the most important information, namely the daily, weekly, and monthly totals. Similarly to the manual gauges, if you don't check the rain total the day of or the day after, they are lost in the amalgamation of weekly or monthly totals.
Of the manual gauges, the La Crosse and AccuRite Easy Read 5-inch gauges are the easiest to use overall. Just stab them in the ground away from obstructions and pick them back up to read the results and pour them out. The La Crosse is easier still since it's measurements are in simple 1/10 of an inch measurements. The AccuRite makes for slightly more complicated math with 1/8 inch increments.
The EZ Read Jumbo isn't far behind. You just need a screwdriver to mount the bracket and need to pull out a small tab at the bottom to empty it. Reading the two-inch tall numbers is a breeze. The Straus Precision Gauge takes a few more steps and a bit of precision, but it's far from difficult to use. The sturdier bracket still just requires a screwdriver, and perhaps a level to install. When you measure totals over an inch, you will need to pour water from the larger cylinder into the smaller one using the included funnel, but we rather enjoy the ritual.
The OutdoorHome option has a small, easy to mount plate, which it slides off quickly for reading and dumping. But the colorless numbers and odd increment fractions (1/16th of an inch) make it awkward, although the metric measurements on the left-hand side are convenient. The La Crosse Waterfall takes two hands to dump, and the red float washes out with the water, but it's not that annoying.
If you can't get to your gauge reliably after every rainfall event, you'll need more capacity. The two digital options excel here, as they dump water as they go. Of course, the monitors can only be 100 feet away from the sensor, so they don't work well for remote fields or data collection. For that, you'll probably want the Stratus, which holds 11 inches at a time.
After that, capacity drops off considerably. The OutdoorHome measures 6 inches. The EZ Jumbo, La Crosse Waterfall, and Easy Read AcuRite and La Crosse each hold 5 inches.
Durability and Debris
A trusted tool that lasts for years is one of life's most satisfying purchases. A good rain gauge should be no different. The digital AcuRite gauge seems well made and comes with calibration instructions so you can keep it running smoothly for years. We aren't as confident in the Ecowitt, mostly because the first unit we tried malfunctioned. It also has a few more parts to it, making it a more complex device.
The manual gauges appear to our testers as more likely to outlast both digital versions. The Straus and OutdoorHome gauges are made of particularly sturdy plastic. Both rely on raised plastic bars to serve as measurement markers, meaning they are likely to last despite heavy UV exposure.
The Waterfall and the two Easy Read options, the AcuRite and La Crosse, are made of mid-thickness plastic, with measurement readings that could fade in the sun. Still, they all seem ready to last years. The EZRead Jumbo is made of the thinnest plastic, with painted on numbers that could fade under the sun. Our lead teaser had one for years in childhood. The letters eventually faded, and the funnel cracked.
We hope this review helps you understand how rain gauges work and which model best suits your needs. We're wishing you beautiful weather, even when that gorgeous weather comes in the form of a solid downpour.
— Clark Tate