Instrument for measuring the speed of airflow. The most familiar instruments for measuring wind speeds are the revolving cups that drive an electric generator (useful range approximately 5–100 knots). For very low airspeeds, a unit in which revolving vanes operate a counter measures the airspeed. For strong, steady wind speeds (in wind tunnels and aboard aircraft in flight), a pitot-tube anemometer is often used; the pressure difference between the interior of the tube and the surrounding air can be measured and converted to airspeed.
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An anemometer is a device for measuring wind speed, and is one instrument used in a weather station. The term is derived from the Greek word anemos, meaning wind. The first anemometer was invented by Leon Battista Alberti.
Anemometers can be divided into two classes: those that measure the velocity of the wind, and those that measure the pressure of the wind; but as there is a close connection between the pressure and the velocity, a suitable anemometer of either class will give information about both these quantities.
Unfortunately, when Robinson first designed his anemometer, he stated that no matter what the size of the cups or the length of the arms, the linear speed of the cups always moved with one-third of the speed of the wind. This result was apparently confirmed by some early independent experiments, but it is very far from the truth. It was later discovered that the actual relationship between the speed of the wind and that of the cups, called the anemometer factor, depended on the dimensions of the cups and arms, and may have a value between two and a little over three. This had the result that wind speeds published in many official 19th century publications were often in error.
The three cup anemometer developed by the Canadian John Patterson in 1926 and subsequent cup improvements by Brevoort & Joiner of the USA in 1935 led to a cupwheel design which was linear and had an error of less than 3% up to 60 mph. Patterson found that each cup produced maximum torque when it was at 45 degrees to the wind flow. The three cup anemometer also had a more constant torque and responded more quickly to gusts than the four cup anemometer.
The three cup anemometer was further modified by the Australian Derek Weston in 1991 to measure both wind direction and wind speed. Weston added a tag to one cup, which causes the cupwheel speed to increase and decrease as the tag moves alternately with and against the wind. Wind direction is calculated from these cyclical changes in cupwheel speed, while wind speed is as usual determined from the average cupwheel speed.
Hot wire anemometers use a very fine wire (on the order of several micrometers) heated up to some temperature above the ambient. Air flowing past the wire has a cooling effect on the wire. As the electrical resistance of most metals is dependent upon the temperature of the metal (tungsten is a popular choice for hot-wires), a relationship can be obtained between the resistance of the wire and the flow velocity.
Several ways of implementing this exist, and hot-wire devices can be further classified as CCA (Constant-Current Anemometer), CVA (Constant-Voltage Anemometer) and CTA (Constant-Temperature Anemometer). The voltage output from these anemometers is thus the result of some sort of circuit within the device trying to maintain the specific variable (current, voltage or temperature) constant.
Additionally, PWM (pulse-width modulation) anemometers are also used, wherein the velocity is inferred by the time length of a repeating pulse of current that brings the wire up to a specified resistance and then stops until a threshold "floor" is reached, at which time the pulse is sent again.
Hot-wire anemometers, while extremely delicate, have extremely high frequency-response and fine spatial resolution compared to other measurement methods, and as such are almost universally employed for the detailed study of turbulent flows, or any flow in which rapid velocity fluctuations are of interest.
Laser Doppler anemometers use a beam of light from a laser that is split into two beams, with one propagated out of the anemometer. Particulates (or deliberately introduced seed material) flowing along with air molecules near where the beam exits reflect, or backscatter, the light back into a detector, where it is measured relative to the original laser beam. When the particles are in great motion, they produce a Doppler shift for measuring wind speed in the laser light, which is used to calculate the speed of the particles, and therefore the air around the anemometer.
Two-dimensional (wind speed and wind direction) sonic anemometers are used in applications such as small weather stations, ship navigation, wind turbines and aviation.
James Lind's anemometer of 1775 consisted simply of a glass U tube containing liquid, a manometer, with one end bent in a horizontal direction to face the wind and the other vertical end remains parallel to the wind flow. Though the Lind was not the first it was the most practical and best known anemometer of this type. If the wind blows into the mouth of a tube it causes an increase of pressure on one side of the manometer. The wind over the open end of a vertical tube causes little change in pressure on the other side of the manometer. The resulting liquid change in the U tube is an indication of the wind speed. Small departures from the true direction of the wind causes large variations in the magnitude.
The highly successful metal pressure tube anemometer of William Henry Dines in 1892 utilized the same pressure difference between the open mouth of a straight tube facing the wind and a ring of small holes in a vertical tube which is closed at the upper end. Both are mounted at the same height. The pressure differences on which the action depends are very small, and special means are required to register them. The recorder consists of a float in a sealed chamber partially filled with water. The pipe from the straight tube is connected to the top of the sealed chamber and the pipe from the small tubes is directed into the bottom inside the float. Since the pressure difference determines the vertical position of the float this is a measure of the wind speed.
The great advantage of the tube anemometer lies in the fact that the exposed part can be mounted on a high pole, and requires no oiling or attention for years; and the registering part can be placed in any convenient position. Two connecting tubes are required. It might appear at first sight as though one connection would serve, but the differences in pressure on which these instruments depend are so minute, that the pressure of the air in the room where the recording part is placed has to be considered. Thus if the instrument depends on the pressure or suction effect alone, and this pressure or suction is measured against the air pressure in an ordinary room, in which the doors and windows are carefully closed and a newspaper is then burnt up the chimney, an effect may be produced equal to a wind of 10 mi/h (16 km/h); and the opening of a window in rough weather, or the opening of a door, may entirely alter the registration.
While the Dines anemometer had an error of only 1% at 10 mph it did not respond very well to low winds due to the poor response of the flat plate vane required to turn the head into the wind. In 1918 an aerodynamic vane with eight times the torque of the flat plate overcame this problem.
Meteorological Instruments, W.E. Knowles Middleton and Athelstan F. Spilhaus, Third Edition revised, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 1953
Invention of the Meteorological Instruments, W.E. Knowles Middleton, The Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore, 1969