How to measure the wind (and when to hang out the washing)

I love the language in the Beaufort Wind Scale as rendered in the 1947 edition of the textbook Mapwork and Practical Geography.

6 Strong breeze – whistling heard in telegraph wires; umbrellas used with difficulty

7 Moderate gale – inconvenience felt when walking against wind

8 Fresh gale – generally impedes progress

Beaufort wind scale

The Beaufort wind  scale was “devised in 1805 by Francis Beaufort (later Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort), an Irish Royal Navy officer”.

In the early 19th century, naval officers made regular weather observations, but there was no standard scale and so they could be very subjective – one man’s “stiff breeze” might be another’s “soft breeze”. Beaufort succeeded in standardizing the scale.

The initial scale of thirteen classes (zero to twelve) …  related qualitative wind conditions to effects on the sails of a frigate … from “just sufficient to give steerage” to “that which no canvas sails could withstand”.[2]

In 1916, to accommodate the growth of steam power, the descriptions were changed to how the sea, not the sails, behaved and extended to land observations. — Wikipedia

The NZ Met Service has a colourful poster of wind measurements describing the terms it uses in our forecasts today. The poster is free to download for personal use: another worthwhile addition to the newsroom wall.

Some of the terminology has changed since 1947 – “whistling heard in telegraph wires” has become “whistling in wires” and “inconvenience felt when walking against wind” has become “impedes walking” – but otherwise much remains the same.

Measuring The Wind

Sometimes, though, all you really want to know is whether or not to hang out the washing. For that, you might try shouldihangmywashingout.com (caution, there be swear words).

Should I Hange My Washing Out?

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Did you know?

  • New Zealand has had one of the warmest winters this year since reliable records began in the 1860s.
  • Temperatures in New Zealand this winter are 1.1 degrees higher than they were in 1870.

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