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How to Measure Wind Speed: Accurate Techniques and Tips

Measuring wind speed is an important aspect of various fields, such as meteorology, aviation, and renewable energy operations. Accurate wind speed measurements provide valuable data for analysis, predictions, and decision-making processes. In this article, we will explore the methods and tools utilized to measure wind speed effectively.

One common instrument used to measure wind speed is an anemometer. Anemometers record the speed of the wind through their spinning motion, with a faster spin indicating stronger winds. These devices come in various designs and technologies, such as cup anemometers or ultrasonic anemometers. The latter measures wind speed using high-frequency sound transmitted between pairs of sound transmitters and receivers.

An alternative method for estimating wind speed without the use of an anemometer is the Beaufort scale. This empirical, verbal scale describes the effects of the wind on everyday objects, like trees or flags, that can be observed by the human eye. Although less precise than an anemometer, the Beaufort scale provides a simple way to gauge wind speed based on visual observations.

Single tree in the fog, struggling the strong wind

Types of Anemometers

Cup Anemometer

Cup anemometers are among the oldest and most popular types of anemometers used by engineers and meteorologists to measure wind speed. They typically consist of three or four cups mounted on horizontal arms connected to a central vertical axis. As the wind blows, the cups capture the wind and cause the axis to rotate. The rotation speed is then converted into a wind speed measurement. Cup anemometers are versatile and can be placed in various locations to collect accurate wind data.

Vane Anemometer

Vane anemometers, also known as windmill anemometers, utilize a propeller and tail section to measure both wind speed and direction. As the wind blows, it presses against the propeller, causing it to spin. The rotational speed of the propeller indicates how fast the wind is moving at any time. Additionally, the tail section of the vane anemometer aligns with the direction of the wind, providing a directional measurement. This type of anemometer is commonly used in weather stations and for applications where measuring wind direction is essential.

Hot-Wire Anemometer

Hot-wire anemometers are specialized instruments that measure wind speed using temperature changes to gauge air velocity. These anemometers comprise a thin, heated wire or filament that cools down as the wind blows across it. The rate of cooling correlates with the wind speed and is measured by the device. Hot-wire anemometers are often used in controlled environments, such as laboratories and wind tunnels, where precise measurements are necessary. They can also be useful for measuring low wind speeds, where other anemometer types might be less accurate or responsive.

Measuring Wind Speed

Wind speed is significant in meteorology as it influences weather patterns and helps to predict various weather conditions. There are a variety of instruments and techniques employed to measure wind speed, the most common of which are weather stations and sampling techniques.

Weather Stations

Weather stations typically utilize anemometers to measure wind speed. Anemometers come in various types and function based on different principles, such as cup anemometers and tube anemometers. Cup anemometers consist of three or four cups mounted on a spindle, which rotates as wind passes through. The rotation is directly proportional to wind speed, allowing for accurate measurements.

In contrast, tube anemometers use air pressure to compare the pressure difference between the inside and outside of a closed glass tube. This difference in air pressure allows for wind speed calculation.

Sampling Techniques

To measure wind speed, it’s essential to implement appropriate sampling techniques:

  • Instantaneous Wind Speed: Obtain the wind speed measurement at a specific moment. It can be calculated using the formula: Anemometer Factor x Instantaneous Shaft Speed.
  • Average Wind Speed: Calculate the mean wind speed over a set period. Use the formula: Anemometer Factor x (Number of Turns / Time).

Sampling frequency refers to how often an anemometer takes wind speed measurements. For instance, if a device has a 0.1 Hz frequency, it counts the number of turns over a 10-second period.

In summary, accurately measuring wind speed is crucial for understanding weather conditions and variations. Weather stations and sampling techniques, utilizing various types of anemometers, provide precise data necessary for meteorological research and forecasting.

Meteorological Organizations and Standards

Beaufort Scale

The Beaufort Scale is a widely-used system for classifying wind speeds based on observable effects on the environment. Developed in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort, a British naval officer, the scale ranges from 0 to 12, with descriptive terms accompanying each level:

  • 0: Calm
  • 1: Light air
  • 2: Light breeze
  • 3: Gentle breeze
  • 4: Moderate breeze
  • 5: Fresh breeze
  • 6: Strong breeze
  • 7: Near gale
  • 8: Gale
  • 9: Severe gale
  • 10: Storm
  • 11: Violent storm
  • 12: Hurricane

This scale remains an important reference tool for meteorologists and maritime professionals.

World Meteorological Organization

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is an intergovernmental organization with 193 member states and territories. It is a specialized agency of the United Nations, responsible for promoting international cooperation on atmospheric, oceanic, and hydrological issues. The WMO sets standards for measuring wind speed and other meteorological parameters. For instance, it recommends that wind instruments be sited on level terrain with no significant obstacles within 100 meters. However, the WMO acknowledges the difficulty in finding ideal locations in practice.

Mount Washington Observatory

The Mount Washington Observatory is a weather station located on the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, USA. It is well-known for recording some of the most extreme weather conditions in North America. The observatory uses anemometers, which are instruments specifically designed to measure wind speed and wind pressure, to collect data.

Anemometers come in various forms, such as cup and propeller types, capable of measuring wind speeds from a few tenths of a meter per second up to 100 meters per second. These devices are essential for meteorology, aviation, air pollution, wind energy, and numerous other applications. In addition to wind speed measurements, the observatory also collects data on temperature, air pressure, humidity, and other meteorological parameters.

Wind Direction Measurement

Wind Vane

A wind vane, sometimes called a weather vane or weathercock, is an instrument used for determining wind direction. It is a simple device consisting of a rotating arm or pointer mounted on a vertical axis. It is generally composed of a long rod and an arrow or a bird, like a rooster, fixed at the top. The wind vane is designed to respond easily to changes in wind direction and is usually installed at a high point to ensure as little interference as possible from buildings, trees, or other obstructions.

Wind vanes work on the principle of aerodynamics – the arrow or bird-like structure is shaped asymmetrical, with the wider and heavier side catching the wind, causing the pointer to rotate and face into the wind. The arrow then points to the direction from which the wind is blowing. They are often used in conjunction with other meteorological instruments like anemometers to accurately measure wind speed and direction.

Weather Vane

Weather vanes are similar to wind vanes in that they also measure wind direction. However, the primary difference between these two instruments is that weather vanes often come in more elaborate designs and are more decorative. They can be found mounted on various structures, such as rooftops, garden sheds, or fences. These artistic devices often depict animals, people, or even mythical creatures as their central motif.

Both wind vanes and weather vanes serve as useful aids in determining wind direction, whether for meteorological purposes or simply to observe current conditions. While their functionality is essential in some contexts, they can also be seen as decorative additions to homes and outdoor spaces. It is important to place them in an area with minimal obstructions in order to accurately read the wind’s direction.

Factors Affecting Wind Speed Measurements

Surface Interference

Surface interference plays a significant role in altering wind speed measurements. The presence of buildings, trees, and other objects on the ground can obstruct or channel the wind, resulting in higher or lower measurements than the actual wind speed. It is essential to consider the location of the anemometer when measuring wind speed to reduce the impact of these interferences.

Air Pressure

Air pressure also affects wind speed measurements. The pressure gradient, which is the difference in air pressure between two points, causes the wind to move from areas of high pressure to low pressure. This movement of air influences wind speed and direction. Understanding the relationship between air pressure and wind speed can help improve the accuracy of measurements.


Friction between the wind and the surface of the Earth can impact wind speed measurements. As the wind moves over the ground, it encounters resistance from the surface, which can slow down the wind speed. Friction is more significant near the Earth’s surface and decreases with altitude. Consequently, wind speed measurements taken closer to the ground may be lower than those taken at higher altitudes due to the increased impact of friction.

Choosing the Right Location

Safety Considerations

When selecting a location to measure wind speed, it is crucial to prioritize safety. One should choose a location away from obstacles such as buildings, trees, or other structures that could either obstruct or affect the accuracy of wind measurements. Ideal locations may include open fields, parks, or playing fields, where wind can flow freely and is less likely to be influenced by surrounding objects.

In addition, ensure the measurement site is secure and away from areas with potential hazards, such as power lines or busy roads. This will reduce the risk of accidents or injuries while installing and maintaining wind measurement equipment.

Automatic Weather Stations

An automatic weather station (AWS) can be a valuable tool in measuring wind speed and direction consistently and accurately. When setting up an AWS, consider the following factors for optimal results:

  • Elevation: Place the anemometer (the instrument used to measure wind speed) at a sufficient height above the ground to avoid ground interference. Typically, anemometers are installed at heights of 10 meters (33 feet) or more.
  • Distance from obstructions: Keep the AWS away from tall buildings, trees, or other obstructions that may affect the wind flow. As a general guideline, the distance should be at least 10 times the height of the tallest obstruction.
  • Terrain: Ensure the chosen location is representative of the surrounding area in terms of terrain type (e.g., flat, hilly, or mountainous). This allows for more accurate and meaningful data collection.
  • Power source: Since AWSs are typically powered by solar panels, ensure the location has sufficient exposure to sunlight.
  • Data transmission: Ensure that your AWS location has reliable communication capabilities (e.g., cellular, radio, or satellite) to transmit data accurately and consistently to a central storage system for analysis.

By carefully selecting the location and configuration of an automatic weather station, one can acquire accurate and consistent wind speed measurements over time. This valuable data can be analyzed and used for various applications, such as assessing wind energy potential or informing meteorological research.