What is a Wind Vane? - Definition, Uses & Facts

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  • 0:00 Introduction and…
  • 0:33 Other Names for the Wind Vane
  • 0:57 Common Uses for the…
  • 1:51 Historical Facts About…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Have you ever used a thermometer to determine the temperature outdoors? Probably. Have you ever used a wind vane? Probably not. Why, then, are they still seen in many places? In this lesson, you will learn about the wind vane's purpose and some of its history.

Introduction and Definition of the Wind Vane

Scientists must collect many measurements in order to understand and predict the weather. It's important to gauge temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed and direction, and other meteorological data in order to construct the full picture of what's happening outside. Multiple pieces of equipment are used to complete this task. The wind vane plays a minor but important role, because it measures wind direction. The wind vane is a simple instrument, as it points in the direction the wind blows. Anyone can use one!

Other Names for the Wind Vane

The wind vane is often referred to by other names. The most commonly used term for wind vane is a weather vane. This term is used because other instruments, such as an anemometer (which measures wind speed), are often attached to a weather vane. The wind vane is also sometimes called a weathercock. This term arose because of the common shape of a wind vane: a rooster. The rooster image is tied directly to the wind vane's history.

Common Uses for the Wind Vane in Today's High-Tech Society

In today's technological society, the wind vane is not often used by people going about their day-to-day lives. Usually, high-tech weather systems can collect all the weather data needed, without a traditional wind vane. However, some groups in society still use a wind vane on a regular basis.

In the field of aviation, wind vanes or similar instruments are often used to provide a visual backup to the weather data downloaded from the internet. Many pilots and air traffic controllers prefer to see the direction of the wind in order to better do their jobs. This is why it's common to see wind vanes at airports and small airstrips all over the world.

Another common use for wind vanes is as a decorative addition to tall buildings. Many buildings have wind vanes for their visually pleasing effects. In many ways, having a wind vane is seen as being traditional, so the the devices are used to honor tradition.

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