Skip to main content

© Get Windsurf Fit, Nic Pillonel & Sean O’Brien.
Made with ✌️ in Warszawa by Brisbane.


How to read wind direction

Sean O'Brien June 11January 28th, 2023
How to read wind direction

“Wind direction” defined

The first and most crucial thing to know about wind direction is that it is measured from where the wind is blowing to, not from “where” the wind is blowing. This is a straightforward explanation of wind direction. However, the word “where” does not disappear from the sentence. Because the wind is blowing not just “from,” but also “somewhere” — that is, in the opposite direction of where it is supposed to be blowing.

Back in the day, man devised a geographical system of coordinates to calculate the wind’s direction, and he used it to identify the wind’s direction today. It is sometimes referred to as “cardinal directions,” “cardinal points,” and other similar terms.

A fascinating fact about Ancient Greece is that the cardinal directions were also distinguished by the distinct winds that blew in each direction. They came from the north, the south, the east, and the west, and their names were Boreas, Notos, Eurus, and Zephyrus. They are also referred to as “Classical compass winds” in some circles. As a result, the idea of wind direction is extremely intimately associated with the idea of “wind rose.”

The wind rose is a graph that depicts the predominant wind direction and speed at a certain area based on statistical data derived from several years of meteorological measurements (aka weather history). As a result, the idea of a wind rise is frequently seen in meteorology.

Another word for the same thing is “compass,” which is a device for finding cardinal directions that you are undoubtedly familiar with from your Boy scout days.

Compass Wind Direction

The process of reading the wind and translating it into words may be particularly difficult. Learn how to convert wind directions in degrees to compass directions, as well as the official acronyms that correlate to each. How do you determine the direction of the wind? What is the direction of SSW? 0 (zero) degrees can be found in either direction – north or south. All you’ll need is a Rose of the Winds and a solid memory to pull this one off.

The first thing we need to understand is that wind direction is stated as the orientation of the wind’s direction of movement. For example, if the wind is blowing from the southeast and is blowing towards the northwest, it is referred to be a southeast wind.

The four cardinal points are clearly recognized in the wind rose alongside their initials – North (N), South (S), West (W), and East (E) – and their respective locations on the globe (E). That is something you are probably already familiar with.

However, these are very rudimentary directional labels that are practically never used in conjunction with a real-world wind direction scenario. Winds are always altering, and they do not blow in a consistent manner according to tables created by humans.

There are four more intercardinal directions to consider in order to increase the quality of the readings: northeast (NE), southeast (SE), northwest (NW), and southwest (SW) (SW).

Brawzinho Back Loop

What is the best way to tell which way the wind is blowing?

The wind can blow in 32 various directions according to a geographic coordinate system, although not all of them are employed in daily life. Let’s take a look at each one individually:

4 Wind Directions

The four primary wind directions are north, south, east, and west at the start. They are usually marked by the letters N, S, E, and W on a compass to abbreviate the direction.

The Earth’s north and south poles are located on opposite sides of the planet. The visible dawn and sunset above the horizon are located to the east and west, respectively. On current maps, north is at the top, south is at the bottom, east is on the right, and west is on the left.

Cardinal directions of major winds are the names given to these four directions.

8 Wind Directions

Northeast (NE), southeast (NW), southwest (SW), and northwest (NW) are the four additional directions (NW). As a result, we now have eight major directions to consider.

Intermediate directions, ordinal directions, and half-winds are all terms used to describe them.

16 Wind Directions

The more directions on a compass or wind rose we have, the more accurately we can read where the wind is blowing FROM (and to), so these eight directions were further divided, up to 16: north-northeast (NNE), east-northeast (ENE), east-southeast (ESE), south-southeast (SSE), south-southwest (SSW), west-southwest (WSW), west-northwest (WNW) (NNW).

Secondary intercardinal directions, often known as quarter-winds, are a type of secondary intercardinal direction.

32 Wind Directions

Finally, the 16 primary directions are combined with 16 extra points to form a 32-direction compass: north by east (NbE), northeast by north (NEbN), and so on. A compass with 16 directions, on the other hand, is already regarded quite accurate… and easy. It is frequently used in everyday life.

So, what’s the big deal about 32? Because the wind direction is similarly measured in degrees (°) from 0° to 360°, with 0° representing north and 32 directions completely matching the divisions in degrees. Then we go around in a clockwise direction:

0° — the wind is coming from the north (N)
22.5° — wind from the north-northeast (NNE)
45° — the wind is blowing from the northeast (NE)
67.5° — wind from the east-northeast (ENE)
90 degrees — east wind (E)
Wind from the east-southeast at 112.5 degrees (ESE)
Winds from the southeast at 135 degrees (SE)
The wind is blowing from the south-southeast at 157.5 degrees (SSE)
The wind is blowing from the south at 180 degrees (S)
Wind from the south-southwest at 202.5°. (SSW)
225° — the wind is coming from the southwest (SW)
Wind from the west-southwest at 247.5°. (WSW)
270 degrees — west wind (W)
Wind from the west-northwest at 292.5 degrees (WNW)
The angle is 315°, so the wind is blowing from the northwest (NW)
The wind is blowing from the north-northwest at 337.5 degrees (NNW)
The wind is blowing from the north at 360 degrees (N)

The basic conclusion is that reading wind direction is not difficult; in fact, it is simple and enjoyable. It’s a valuable ability to have when participating in your favorite sports and outdoor activities.

Cardinal Point Abbreviation Azimuth Degrees
North N 0.00°
North by East NbE 11.25°
North-Northeast NNE 22.50°
Northeast by North NEbN 33.75°
Northeast NE 45.00°
Northeast by East NEbE 56.25°
East-Northeast ENE 67.50°
East by North EbN 78.75°
East E 90.00°
East by South EbS 101.25°
East-Southeast ESE 112.50°
Southeast by East SEbE 123.75°
Southeast SE 135.00°
Southeast by South SEbS 146.25°
South-Southeast SSE 157.50°
South by East SbE 168.75°
South S 180.00°
South by West SbW 191.25°
South-Southwest SSW 202.50°
Southwest by South SWbS 213.75°
Southwest SW 225.00°
Southwest by West SWbW 236.25°
West-Southwest WSW 247.50°
West by South WbS 258.75°
West W 270.00°
West by North WbN 281.25°
West-Northwest WNW 292.50°
Northwest by West NWbW 303.75°
Northwest NW 315.00°
Northwest by North NWbN 326.25°
North-Northwest NNW 337.50°
North by West NbW 348.75°
George Desipris 2081046

5 Ways to Measure Wind Direction without an Aenometer

Windsurfers and kiteboarders need to know which way the wind is blowing. There are a variety of wind measuring methods; some are quite exact and exact, while others are just enough to get you sailing. The wind compass is a simple and useful instrument for determining the direction of the wind. As we know, the wind direction is written in letters (for example, NE, SW), although the compass is often split into 360 degrees around the whole circle. More exact measurements will be possible as a result of this.

The way you sail will be affected by minor changes in wind direction. Although it is not always feasible to precisely adjust to the direction of the breeze, it is necessary to be aware of the many methods for determining wind direction wherever you are.

Flags on the Beach

Beach flags on the sand give useful information since they move with the breeze. You can look at them on the beach, but you can also look at them while sailing out on the ocean.

Drop Sand from your hand

Hand-pouring sand is another traditional method of determining the direction of the wind. It’s simple: just look at the grains to see if it’s an offshore or sideshore breeze.

Using a wind vane

The wind vane is one of the most precise ways. Although there aren’t many weather vanes around sailing places, you can get a similar gadget for your smartphone that acts as a portable anemometer for a reasonable price nowadays.

Using a windsock

Windsocks aren’t usually seen near lakes, beaches, or rivers, but if you’re travelling to your favorite sailing area, you could notice one of these conical tubes beside the roadway. Keep in mind that the wind is blowing in the opposite direction that the windsock is pointed in this example.

Licking your finger then sticking it in the wind

One of the most inexact and inaccurate methods of assessing wind sources is the wet-finger-in-the-wind test. The human wind meter’s drawback is that it is plainly unreliable in extremely humid and hot situations.


The most precise technique of measuring wind is using modern digital anemometers. Air temperature, air pressure, and wind speed are among the features and functionalities available on these portable instruments.

Further reading – Wind Direction

What is an aenometer?

An anemometer is a wind speed and direction measurement instrument. It’s also a frequent device at weather stations. The phrase comes from the Greek word anemos, which means “wind,” and it refers to any wind speed instrument used in meteorology. In 1450, Leon Battista Alberti published the earliest documented description of an anemometer.

Three or four cups are affixed to horizontal arms in the most popular form of anemometer. The arms are held in place by a vertical rod. The cups revolve when the wind blows, spinning the rod. The quicker the rod spins, the stronger the wind blows. The number of rotations, or turns, counted by the anemometer is used to calculate wind speed. Wind speeds are generally averaged over a short period of time since they are not consistent—there are gusts and lulls.

The rotations performed by windmill-style blades are counted using a similar sort of anemometer. Windmill anemometers have a horizontally rotating rod.

Other anemometers use a variety of methods to calculate wind speed. The fact that air cools a heated item when it flows over it is used by a hot-wire anemometer. (This is why a cool wind feels so good on a hot day.) A thin, electrically heated wire is put in the wind in a hot-wire anemometer. The wind speed is calculated using the amount of electricity required to keep the wire heated. The more power required to keep the wire at a steady temperature increases as the wind speed increases.

Air pressure may also be used to calculate wind speed. (Air pressure is measured using a device known as a barometer.) The wind pressure, or speed, is measured with a tube anemometer, which employs air pressure to do so. The air pressure within a glass tube that is closed at one end is measured using a tube anemometer. Wind speed may be estimated by comparing the air pressure inside the tube to the air pressure outside the tube.

Other anemometers measure the speed of sound waves or the influence of microscopic particles in the wind by focusing laser beams on them.

What is a compass?

A compass is a tool for navigation and geographic orientation that displays the cardinal directions. It usually consists of a magnetized needle or other device that can rotate to align itself with magnetic north, such as a compass card or compass rose. Other devices, such as gyroscopes, magnetometers, and GPS receivers, might be employed.

Angles are commonly shown in degrees on compasses: north equals 0°, and angles grow clockwise, thus east equals 90°, south equals 180°, and west equals 270°. The compass uses these numbers to display azimuths or bearings, which are generally expressed in degrees. If the local variance between magnetic north and true north is known, the magnetic north direction also gives the true north direction.

The magnetic compass, one of the Four Great Inventions, was initially devised as a divination instrument by the Chinese Han Dynasty (about 206 BC) and then used for navigation by the Song Dynasty Chinese in the 11th century. Around 1190, the first use of a compass was reported in Western Europe and the Islamic world.

The most well-known form of compass is the magnetic compass. They’ve grown in popularity to the point that the name “compass” virtually usually refers to a magnetic compass. The notion of how this sort of compass works has stayed the same over the ages, despite substantial changes in form and construction. Magnetic compasses are made out of a rotating magnetized needle that aligns with the Earth’s magnetic field. Magnetic north and magnetic south are the points at which the ends point.

A magnetic needle was connected to a piece of wood or cork that floated freely in a dish of water in the early days of compasses. The designated end of the needle would point toward magnetic north when it settled.

The compass needle was mounted and put in the centre of a card that represented the cardinal directions—north, south, east, and west—as engineers and scientists discovered more about magnetism. North was symbolized by a spearhead and the letter T, which stood for Tramontana, the Latin word for the North Wind. This combination resulted in the fleur-de-lis pattern, which is still used today. The compass card was ultimately updated to include all 32 points of direction.

The Earth’s magnetic isn’t used by all compasses to determine direction. The gyrocompass, which was designed in the early twentieth century, employs a spinning gyroscope to point to true north by following Earth’s axis of rotation. Variation isn’t a problem because magnetic north isn’t observed. Motion will not upset the gyroscope once it starts spinning. This sort of compass is commonly used on ships and planes.

The sun is used as a navigational tool via a solar compass. The most popular way for determining direction is to use a compass card and the angle of the sun’s shadow.

There are ways to utilize the sun as a compass even if you don’t have a compass card. Making a shadow stick is one way. A shadow stick is a stick that is positioned vertically in the ground. A navigator can identify the directions of east and west by placing pebbles around the stick and using a piece of thread to follow the sun’s shadow across the sky.

An old-fashioned analog (not digital) timepiece is another sort of solar compass. It is possible to identify north or south using the hands of the watch and the location of the sun. Simply place the watch in your hand parallel to the ground and point the hour hand toward the sun. Determine the angle formed by the hour hand and the twelve o’clock mark. This is the line that runs north-south. North will be the direction closest to the sun in the Southern Hemisphere. North will be the direction away from the sun in the Northern Hemisphere.

What is a windsock?

A windsock is a large conical textile tube that looks like a sock. Windsocks can be used as decoration or as a rudimentary reference to wind direction and speed. Windsocks are used to determine wind speed as well as the direction of the wind. Windsocks are commonly used at airports to inform pilots of the wind’s direction and strength, as well as in chemical industries where there is a risk of gaseous leakage. They’re sometimes seen beside to roadways in windy areas.

Windsocks are lighted at night at many airports, either by floodlights on the top encircling it or by a light set on the pole illuminating within it. The wind is blowing in the direction that the windsock is pointed (note that wind directions are conventionally specified as being the compass point from which the wind originates; so a windsock pointing due north indicates a southerly wind). The angle of the windsock relative to the mounting pole indicates wind speed; in low winds, the windsock droops; in high winds, it flies horizontally.

Initially, alternating bands of high visibility orange and white were employed to aid with wind speed estimation. The projected wind speed is increased by 3 knots for each stripe. Even though anemometers indicate no wind speed, some circular frame mountings cause windsocks to be kept open at one end, showing a velocity of 3 knots. A completely stretched windsock indicates a wind speed of at least 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph).

What are cardinal points?

The four cardinal directions, sometimes known as cardinal points, are north, east, south, and west, and are often symbolized by the letters N, E, S, and W. East and west are perpendicular to north and south (at right angles), with east rotating clockwise from north and west rotating exactly opposite east. The compass points are the intersections of the cardinal directions.

Northeast (NE), southeast (SE), southwest (SW), and northwest (NW) are the ordinal (also known as intercardinal) directions (NW). The eight shortest points in the compass rose displayed to the right are called secondary intercardinal directions, which are the intermediate direction of every combination of intercardinal and cardinal directions (e.g. NNE, ENE, and ESE).

Keeping a heading isn’t always the same as traveling in a straight line around a large circle. On the other hand, one can stick to a large circle and the bearing may alter. As a result, the bearing of a straight road traversing the North Pole abruptly shifts from north to south at the Pole. Only on the Equator can one maintain moving straight in either direction whether traveling East or West (without the need to steer). Maintaining latitude wherever else necessitates a change of direction, or steering. As one gets to lower latitudes, however, this shift in direction becomes increasingly insignificant.

The Earth has a magnetic field that is roughly aligned with its rotational axis. A magnetic compass is a device that determines cardinal directions using this field. Magnetic compasses are frequently used, though their accuracy is relatively mediocre. The magnetic needle’s north pole points to the earth’s geographic north pole, and vice versa. This is due to the fact that the earth’s geographic north pole is quite near to its magnetic south pole. The earth’s south magnetic pole, which is at an angle of 17 degrees to the geographic north pole, draws the magnetic needle’s north pole and vice versa.

If the general time of day is known, the location of the Sun in the sky can be utilized for orienting. The Sun rises in the east and tracks southwards in the morning (due east only on the equinoxes) (or northwards in the southern hemisphere). It sets in the west in the evening, again generally and only exactly due west during the equinoxes. For viewers in the Northern Hemisphere who live north of the Tropic of Cancer, it is to the south, and for those in the Southern Hemisphere who live south of the Tropic of Capricorn, it is to the north. Because the sun may be directly overhead or even to the north in the northern hemisphere in summer, this approach does not function well when closer to the equator (i.e. between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn). In summer, the sun may be to the south of the observer at low latitudes in the southern hemisphere. In these areas, one must first identify whether the sun is travelling from east to west through north or south by monitoring its movements—left to right indicates south, while right to left indicates north; alternatively one might monitor the sun’s shadows. The sun will be in the south at midday if they travel clockwise, while the sun will be in the north if they travel anticlockwise. Sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Because of the Earth’s axial tilt, there are only two days each year when the sun rises perfectly due east, regardless of the viewer’s position. The equinoxes occur on these days. On all other days, the sun rises north or south of true east, depending on the season (and sets north or south of true west). From the Northward equinox to the Southward equinox, the sun rises north of east (and sets north of west) for all sites, and rises south of east (and sets south of west) from the Southward equinox to the Northward equinox.

The sun and a 12-hour analogue clock or watch set to the local time, in this case 10:10 a.m., are used to determine north and south directions.

An analogue watch may be used to locate north and south using a conventional approach. The Sun seems to move in the sky every 24 hours, yet a 12-hour clock dial’s hour hand takes 12 hours to complete one circle. If the watch is adjusted such that the hour hand points toward the Sun in the northern hemisphere, the position midway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock indicates south. The 12 must be turned toward the Sun in order for this approach to operate in the southern hemisphere, and the position midway between the hour hand and 12 o’clock will indicate north. During daylight saving time, the same procedure may be used, except instead of 12 o’clock, 1 o’clock can be used. The precision of this approach is limited by the difference between local and zone time, the equation of time, and (near the tropics) the non-uniform variation of the Sun’s azimuth at different times of day.

Sean O'Brien

Sean O'Brien

Sean represents Australia on the PWA World Tour and is Design Lead at Brisbane He is an 11x Australian Windsurfing Champion, former YA sailing coach and current member of the IFWC Foil Committee.