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Measuring the weather at home

My name’s Professor Janet Barlow. I’m an urban meteorologist at the University of Reading. And I want to talk to you about how we measure wind speed, but also suggest a way of doing it, which anybody could do. If you’re a meteorologist and you need to make a measurement of the wind speed, you will have access to equipment, which is the same all over the world. But what do you do if you haven’t got that kind of equipment? We all experience the wind every day, and it can be very important. It can be important for our comforts as pedestrians. It can be important because it blows pollution away. But how do we tell what the wind speed is?
One simple, low tech way of measuring the wind speed is to use bubbles. They can show which way the wind is blowing. They can show how fast the wind is blowing. They can also show whether it’s turbulent and gusty. So we can learn a lot of very, very simple technique. This is a principle of flow visualisation. We put something in the flow, and we watch where it goes. It could be smoke. Car manufactures use this to look at the flow around a new design of car. Understanding where the wind blows in our cities and towns is becoming ever more important.
If an architect designs a tall building, then it is a wind engineer who works out what impact it’s going to have on the flow around that building. And the wind plays an important role in keeping our cities healthy. It can blow away pollution from the sources of the traffic. If we build our cities without bearing in mind the kind of flow patterns they create, then we might be living in a very unhealthy future.

In this video, Janet Barlow, Professor of Environmental Physics in the Department of Meteorology demonstrates how you can measure the speed and direction of the wind using a bubble machine.

In the next Step, Sylvia introduces some additional experiments, using readily available equipment that you may like to try for yourself.

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Come Rain or Shine: Understanding the Weather

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