How to read wind direction

Windsurfing
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

The 32-Point Compass Rose

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 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°

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

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