Compass: invented by the Chinese between the 2nd century BC and 1st century AD | Photo: Shutterstock

Reading the wind and putting it into words can be especially confusing. Learn how to convert wind directions in degrees to compass directions, and check out their corresponding official abbreviations.

How do you read wind direction? Which direction is SSW? Which direction is 0 degrees - north or south? All you need is a Rose of the Winds and a good memory.

The first thing we need to know is that wind direction is reported as the orientation from where the wind is blowing. For instance, if it's coming out of the southeast and blowing towards the northwest, it is a southeast wind.

The four cardinal points are clearly identified in the wind rose alongside their initials - North (N), South (S), West (W), and East (E). That is something you probably know already.

However, these are basic directional names that almost never relate to a real-life wind direction scenario. Winds are always shifting, and they don't blow rigorously according to human-designed tables.

In order to improve the quality of the readings, there are another four intercardinal directions - Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), Northwest (NW), and Southwest (SW).

The 32-point compass rose: there are 32 official wind directions

But there's more. It is still not enough. The European nautical tradition introduced the 32-point compass rose - somewhere between the 5th and 15th centuries - to increase even more the precision of the wind direction calculations.

The third layer of readings is rarely used in our daily lives. However, sailors, windsurfers, and kitesurfers may allude to them professionally because these highly specific wind directions have direct impacts in their performances.

The expressions southwest by south (SWbS), north by east (NbE), east by south (EbS), or northwest by west (NWbW) may require practice from the person who assesses the wind, but they will definitely add accuracy to the readings.

Now that we've seen how wind direction is often reported in cardinal directions, it's time to look at the numbers. But how do numerical representations indicate the direction of the wind in particular?

The Rose of the Winds: check out the 32 cardinal points and their corresponding degrees

The truth is that wind direction can also be presented in azimuth degrees, i.e., in a numerical measure that moves around the Rose of the Winds in a clockwise circle from 0 degrees (N) to 360 degrees (N).

So, if north represents 0 degrees, then east is 90 degrees, south is 180 degrees, and west sits at 270 degrees. Easy, isn't it?

Check out the 32 cardinal points, their corresponding abbreviations, and degrees:

Cardinal Point

North
North by east
North-northeast
Northeast by north
Northeast
Northeast by east
East-northeast
East by north
East
East by south
East-southeast
Southeast by east
Southeast
Southeast by south
South-southeast
South by east
South
South by west
South-southwest
Southwest by south
Southwest
Southwest by west
West-southwest
West by south
West
West by north
West-northwest
Northwest by west
Northwest
Northwest by north
North-northwest
North by west

Abbreviation

N
NbE
NNE
NEbN
NE
NEbE
ENE
EbN
E
EbS
ESE
SEbE
SE
SEbS
SSE
SbE
S
SbW
SSW
SWbS
SW
SWbW
WSW
WbS
W
WbN
WNW
NWbW
NW
NWbN
NNW
NbW

Azimuth Degrees

0.00°
11.25°
22.50°
33.75°
45.00°
56.25°
67.50°
78.75°
90.00°
101.25°
112.50°
123.75°
135.00°
146.25°
157.50°
168.75°
180.00°
191.25°
202.50°
213.75°
225.00°
236.25°
247.50°
258.75°
270.00°
281.25°
292.50°
303.75°
315.00°
326.25°
337.50°
348.75°


Discover six (un)orthodox methods for checking wind direction.