What is The Beaufort Scale and Why Do You Need It?

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If you are about to enter the meteorology sector, you could soon have a staggering wealth of data at your fingertips. This data could prove invaluable in informing your weather forecasts. The UK’s Met Office exchanges data with similar services around the world, allowing this office to maintain a computer-based archive of tens of millions of weather reports from around the world.

Still, how is weather data – including that originating from our own country’s Met Office – prepared in the first place? For a particularly revelatory insight, we can look to what is known as the Beaufort scale – or, to use its full name, the Beaufort wind force scale.

The history and development of the Beaufort scale

The Beaufort scale was first created by the Royal Navy officer Francis Beaufort – then serving on HMS Woolwich – in 1805. Though naval officers regularly reported their observations of the weather during the early nineteenth century, they lacked a standard scale for use in recording their findings.

Therefore, the officers’ reports were prone to significant subjectivity – with different men potentially varying in their views of what constituted a “stiff” or “soft” breeze, for example. However, Beaufort developed a 13-point scale that, eventually, the Royal Navy officially adopted in the 1830s.

In its modern form, the Beaufort scale continues to have 13 points numbered from 0 to 12, rising with the detected speed of the wind. While “0” on the scale registers a wind speed of less than a knot, “2” refers to a light breeze, “4” to a moderate breeze and “6” to a strong breeze.

From the “8” score onwards, wind speed enters gale territory, while “12” means hurricane force. Though the Beaufort scale was initially used in measuring sea conditions to assess wind speed, land conditions can now be taken into account as well, thus broadening the scale’s scope of use.

Why the Beaufort scale remains relevant to this day

The idea of weather continuing to be predicted on the basis of a scale first devised over two centuries ago might initially seem archaic, to say the least. However, there remain very good reasons for the Beaufort scale’s surprisingly enduring relevance.

One is the difficulty of precisely reporting wind speed due to its variability. The Beaufort scale’s relative brevity counts much in its favour here. Indeed, measuring wind speed on a 12-point scale, rather than in knots, makes it easier for a forecast’s average recipient to digest.

The Beaufort scale allows wind speed to be reported more quickly, too, which helps to explain why the scale continues to feature on BBC Radio 4’s time-constrained Shipping Forecast. When you work as a meteorologist, you could also determine wind speed by studying windsocks bought from our online store.

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