All about anemometers: what they are, how they’re used & much more

In this mega-FAQ we’re going to explain to you what anemometers are, who uses them, how they work, who invented them, and much, much more. Let’s begin!

What is an anemometer?

The simple answer to this question is an anemometer is a wind speed meter. There are different types of anemometers and they work in different ways but all anemometers have ways of measuring wind speed. Here are a few examples of what different types of anemometers look like (click any image to enlarge it in a new window).

As you can see, anemometers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some are portable handheld anemometers and others are built in and affixed to buildings as a part of weather stations.

What is an anemometer used for?

what is an anemometer used for

An anemometer is for measuring wind speed. Some anemometers are built into larger, more complex weather stations which contain various other instruments and can provide weather forecasts based on a combination of all the data.

For instance an anemometer may be used to measure how windy it is before you go sailing on a sailboat. An air conditioning repair technician might use an anemometer to measure the output of a unit they are troubleshooting. A meteorologist might use anemometer data in their forecasts. A professional sports shooter might use an anemometer to calculate crosswind so they can compensate and hit a target from many hundreds of feet away. Storm chasers and weather hobbyists might use anemometers to understand how fast the wind is blowing. A wind turbine surveyor may use a handheld portable anemometer to determine if a particular area would be a good location to harvest wind power from.

What is an anemometer and how does it work?

An anemometer measures wind speed. Most anemometers work by counting the number of revolutions that their circular array of cups or windmill or blades make within a period of time (say, a 10 second interval) to see how fast the wind is blowing. It can then translate that measurement into a calculation of wind speed in units like miles per hour, kilometers per hour, meters per second or in the case of sailing applications, Knots.

What is an anemometer unit of measurement?

Anemometers measure wind speed in a variety of units. Generally speaking, the more expensive and sophisticated the anemometer is, the more units of measurement it will offer. Anemometer units of measurement may include:

  • MPH (miles per hour)
  • Km/H (kilometers per hour)
  • Knots (for sailing or windsurfing)
  • Feet per minute
  • Meters per second
  • Beaufort scale (a specialized wind speed measurement – read more on Wikipedia)

How does an anemometer work?

Most anemometers fall into one of two general categories: vane (or turbine) anemometers and cup anemometers. In both cases as the wind blows through them and moves their parts around in a circle, they count the number of revolutions per second (or per minute or per 30 seconds or whatever time period). By evaluating the speed of the rotations, the anemometer is able to calculate the wind speed in a common unit of measurement like miles or kilometers per hour.

There is also a third type of anemometer, a hot wire anemometer, which heats a component and then measures how quickly the component cools down (giving a reading of how fast the wind is blowing to cool it). A fourth, more rare type of anemometer is an ultrasonic anemometer, which we will explain below.

What is an ultrasonic anemometer and how do ultrasonic anemometers work?

Ultrasonic anemometers measure wind speed. They do this by sending a sound pulse back and forth from a transmitter to a receiver over a span of a few inches to calculate the speed of the wind blowing in between the two sensors. Ultrasonic anemometers are extremely specialized devices and they tend to be much more expensive than typical anemometers in the more common vane, cup or hot-wire types.

How much do anemometers cost?

Anemometers cost less money than you might think. You can get a portable handheld anemometer for under $20. Of course more sophisticated anemometers with lots of additional features and sensors can cost hundreds of dollars. (See our related article: The best wind meters for long range shooting for some more examples of anemometer cost range.)

How to use an anemometer / how to read an anemometer

In the case of electronic anemometers (most of them), normally you’ll just to turn on the unit and watch as it displays the current wind speed. You may decide to change the mode to view the wind speed in a different unit of measurement (i.e. kilometers per hour instead of miles per hour). In the case of manual cup anemometers for science class projects you’ll need to count the number of revolutions the cups make in a minute long period to calculate the wind speed.

How do you pronounce “anemometer”?

This video shows you how to pronounce anemometer:


How do cup anemometers work?

A cup anemometer (like the ones seen above– click on an image to open it larger in a new window) counts the number of times that the wind revolves a set of cups around in a circle over a period of time to calculate wind speed. At their most simple, cup anemometers consist of a stick of some kind that holds an array of 2, 3, or 4 wind cups which rotate. High school students will sometimes build anemometers or use simple non-electronic cup anemometers like the one below to manually count rotations over a period of 1 minute or 30 seconds to calculate wind speed.

How accurate is an anemometer?

Different anemometers will have different levels of accuracy. Generally speaking the more expensive the unit the more accurate you can expect it to be (no surprise there!). A common handheld decent quality anemometer accuracy range is within ±3%. This means that if the wind is blowing at 20 miles per hour, the unit might register anywhere between 19.4 mph and 20.6 mph, so fairly accurate for most purposes. Specialized scientific anemometers such as ultrasonic anemometers may have even higher accuracy rates.

Where is an anemometer placed?

Anemometers come in two varieties; those that are handheld and portable and those that are mounted in a single fixed location. For the most accurate readings, anemometers are best placed in locations that are unencumbered by obstacles so you can get a wind speed reading that isn’t blocked by trees/buildings/etc. For instance, the absolute worst spot for an anemometer would be directly next to a building or wall. Anemometers are sometimes mounted atop poles in the middle of yards, on top of buildings or in wide open spaces.

Does anemometer measure wind direction?

Anemometers measure wind speed. Some anemometers will also calculate the direction that the wind is blowing. These anemometers will often rotate or have an additional vane attachment that detects the wind direction. So to answer the question “Does anemometer measure wind direction?” we can say that most measure direction (they measure speed only), don’t but some higher end, more expensive models measure both speed and direction.

How is an anemometer different from a windsock?

Windsocks are a very simple way to gauge “is the wind blowing?” and “is the wind blowing fast or slow?” at a glance. But anemometers are very sophisticated instruments that can tell you precisely how fast or slow the wind is blowing, and sometimes even which direction the wind is blowing from. Anemometers will sometimes also be built into a feature-rich weather station which measures other factors like temperature, humidity and barometric pressure.

what does an anemometer look like / how does an anemometer look?

Here are some examples of what different types of anemometers (wind speed meters) look like. Click on any image to open it in a new tab and learn more about it.

How is an anemometer used / how is an anemometer helpful?

Anemometers, which measure wind speed, are used by many people for a variety of purposes. Knowing the wind speed is helpful to sailors, windsurfers, air conditioning repair technicians, professional sports shooters who need to know crosswind, meteorologists, and weather enthusiasts. Sometimes anemometers are built into sophisticated pieces of equipment with many other sensors called personal weather stations which are used by people who live in remote areas or microclimates where traditional weather forecasts are inaccurate.

How do anemometers work / how do anemometers measure wind speed?

Most anemometers have some sort of moving part which rotates or cycles in the wind so when the wind blows faster it will rotate faster. The anemometer’s computer counts the number of revolutions per second or minute (or whatever interval) and then figures out what the speed of the wind is in miles per hour, meters per second or whichever unit it’s set up to read. If you’re interested in learning more about how anemometers calculate wind speed, read on at Wikipedia.

Who invented the anemometer first?

Italian Renaissance man Leon Battista Alberti is credited with inventing the first anemometer, or wind speed meter, around the year 1450. Later in 1846 the English astronomer Thomas Romney Robinson invented the first cup anemometer. You can learn more about the history of the anemometer on Wikipedia.

Who invented the hot wire anemometer?

The first constant-current wire anemometer for practical use was created in 1909 by Russian scientist Dimitri Riabouchinsky (more info).

What does an anemometer and weather vane measure?

An anemometer measures wind speed. A weather vane measures the direction that the wind is blowing (for example, north-south or east-west).

How does an anemometer help meteorologist / why is a anemometer important to weather forecasting?

Basically what anemometers do is they tell you how fast the wind is blowing. If you’re interested in how an anemometer is used to measure weather, check out this answer from an engineer:

Meteorologists use anemometers to measure wind speed. Wind speed is obviously a weather feature reported in itself, but meteorologists use the data for other reasons as well. Gathering wind speed and direction at many locations and altitudes allows meteorologists to create the weather maps used to predict weather across the world several days ahead.

How does anemometer indicate the speed of the wind?

Most anemometers count the rotation of a series of cups or vanes to see how fast the wind is blowing. The faster the wind is, the faster the cups will rotate in the wind (or the faster its turbine will rotate). That speed is then calculated by the anemometer and displayed in a unit like miles per hour or meters per second on the display. In the case of an old fashioned manual cup anemometer, high school science students will often count the number of rotations and calculate how fast the wind is blowing based on that. See below for a simple cup anemometer example:

What is an anemometer used for in science?

What does an anemometer tell us? It tells us how fast the wind is blowing. This may be useful for a variety of different scientists. For instance, meteorologists use anemometers to calculate wind patterns. Renewable energy scientists and engineers may use handheld anemometers to figure out whether a particular place is a good spot for a wind turbine. Other scientists testing lab equipment may have different specialized uses for anemometers. So, what does an anemometer help scientists measure? Wind speed (or air flow, when indoors).

An anemometer is a gauge used for recording the speed of what?

Anemometers measure wind speed. Some very sophisticated anemometers and weather stations can also calculate the direction that the wind is blowing in, in addition to the speed at which it’s blowing.

How big is an anemometer?

Some anemometers are portable and can be held in your hand and stowed in a pocket. Others are part of a larger weather station and can be mounted on the rooftops of buildings or on poles in big open fields. The size of anemometers really varries widely depending on how it’s meant to be used.

How is an anemometer different from a weather vane?

A weather vane measures the direction that the wind is blowing. You frequently see them atop old houses or sometimes in people’s yards, ornamentally. An anemometer on the other hand is usually an electric device that measures the speed that the wind is blowing, based off of how fast a set of cups or a turbine is rotating. Anemometers come in both handheld and stationary mounted varieties. Some anemometers measure the wind direction as the speed, while others measure only the wind force.