Defined | What’s relative humidity and why does it matter on a sizzling day?

Relative humidity is an easy idea as climate phenomena go – but it surely has important, far-reaching penalties for a way we should care for ourselves on a sizzling or moist day.

Humidity is the quantity of moisture within the air round us, and there are 3 ways to trace it. The commonest of them is absolute humidity: the mass of water vapour in a given quantity of the air and water vapour combination, expressed as kg/m3. The second is restricted humidity, equal to the mass of the moisture divided by the mass of air. It’s expressed as a dimensionless quantity (however generally additionally as grams per kilogram, amongst different related items.)

The third method is relative humidity: it is vital as a result of it components within the quantity of vapour that air can maintain at completely different temperatures. Figuring out its worth is a little more difficult: it’s the vapour density of the air divided by the saturation vapour density on the dry-bulb temperature.

Why does relative humidity matter?

On a sizzling day, our physique makes use of sweat to chill itself. Sweat is launched through our pores and skin to the floor. There, the liquid evaporates. When water modifications part from liquid to vapour, it absorbs warmth from the floor on which it lies. So when sweat evaporates, it absorbs warmth from the pores and skin, cooling it.

The upper the relative humidity of air, the extra it’s crammed with moisture. When air already comprises a number of moisture, it received’t simply settle for extra. Which means that the sweat in your pores and skin can’t evaporate. On the identical time, the physique retains sweating as a result of it’s nonetheless anticipating to chill itself.

Consequently, if the relative humidity is excessive, you’ll be able to sweat on a sizzling day even if you find yourself sitting nonetheless – whereas your physique additionally retains accumulating warmth. This may shortly change into harmful.

A relative humidity of 30-60% is usually thought-about to be comfy. Environments which have decrease ranges than this usually use humidifiers to extend the humidity. When the extent is increased, a fan will assist transfer the air round you and assist sweat evaporate higher. 

In each circumstances, ingesting water is necessary.

What does relative humidity suggest bodily?

Hotter air can maintain extra moisture than cooler air. So on the identical absolute humidity, the relative humidity of hotter air will likely be decrease than that of cooler air. It’s like saying two vessels can maintain the identical quantity of water – simply that the larger vessel will likely be much less full than the smaller vessel.

Because of this, for instance, whereas Chennai had an absolute humidity of 70% at 2.30 pm on April 23, its relative humidity was decrease, round 60%, as a result of it had an ambient temperature of 32 C.

The change within the capability for moisture because the air warms can also be non-linear, which means it doesn’t enhance by the identical quantity because the air warms. For instance, the distinction because it warms over 20º C from -20º C to 0º C is small, however there is a gigantic enchancment in its vapour-carrying capability because it warms over 20º C from 30º C to 50º C.

How do you measure relative humidity?

There are a number of methods to measure relative humidity. One is to conduct a easy experiment with home items; one other is to make use of maths; a 3rd is to make use of an app or gadget.


For the experiment, you want two mercury thermometers, some cotton, rubber bands, and entry to chilly water.

First, ensure each thermometers present the identical studying, say, beneath a fan. Subsequent, soak some cotton in chilly water and wrap it across the bulb of one of many thermometers with a rubber band. Maintain this thermometer beneath the fan, such that water from the cotton evaporates, and file the thermometer studying after 5 minutes. Maintain up the opposite thermometer within the air and file its studying after 5 minutes. You’ll thus have the wet-bulb and dry-bulb temperatures, respectively.

Subsequent, subtract the wet-bulb temperature from the dry-bulb temperature to get the temperature distinction. Lastly, use the relative humidity chart (see beneath) to get the relative humidity worth. For instance, if the distinction was 6 C and the dry-bulb temperature was 28 C, the relative humidity would have been 59%.

A psychrometer is a tool that has two such thermometers plus a chart to get the ultimate studying. Trendy, digital psychrometers can calculate the relative humidity immediately.

For a tough sense, the decrease the wet-bulb temperature, the drier the air is, and the much less comparatively humid it’s.


There are two mathematical methods (amongst others) to estimate the relative humidity, one less complicated and one a bit extra concerned.

The primary method is to divide the precise vapour stress by the saturated vapour stress. The vapour stress is the quantity of moisture that air comprises. The ‘saturated’ worth is the utmost attainable quantity. The formula (beneath) requires the dew level (Td), which you’ll receive from a climate web site.

R H = (e/e s)*100

e = 6.11 x 10 ((7.5 x Td)/(237.3 + Td))

For e s, use the identical components however change Td with T, the precise temperature.

The second method is to calculate relative humidity starting from the specific humidity, stress and temperature, utilizing the Clausius-Clapeyron equation.


Should you choose software program: Seek for “hygrometer” in your cellphone’s app retailer to find some choices. (A hygrometer is an instrument that measures humidity.) Be aware that the app will solely work in case your cellphone has a sensor that may sense humidity.

Should you like {hardware}, psychrometers and units referred to as hygrometers can be found in bodily in addition to on-line shops.

The relative humidity reading according to an app somewhere in Chennai on April 24, 2023, at 1:45 pm.

The relative humidity studying in keeping with an app someplace in Chennai on April 24, 2023, at 1:45 pm.
| Photograph Credit score:

Why does the wet-bulb temperature matter?

This mentioned, a extra direct method to perceive the implications of the relative humidity to your wellbeing is within the type of the wet-bulb temperature (a.ok.a. the adiabatic saturation temperature). It’s the lowest temperature a floor – like your pores and skin – can attain when water evaporates from it. The wet-bulb temperature is the same as the dry-bulb temperature when the relative humidity is 100%.

A wet-bulb temperature in an atmosphere of 32-35º C or higher could be shortly deadly, even if you’re not doing any bodily exercise or are within the shade. (At the least one study has proven that even a wet-bulb temperature of greater than 29º C could be harmful.)

The local weather disaster is rendering heatwaves more common, more frequent, extra unfold out, and stronger over the Indian subcontinent. As a research published in May 2022 put it:

“Whether today’s most impactful heatwaves could have occurred in a pre-industrial climate, traditionally a central focus of attribution research, is fast becoming an obsolete question. The next frontier for attribution science is to inform adaptation decision-making in the face of unprecedented future heat.”

One method to adapt is to regulate the relative humidity, drink a number of water, and funky your self.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Available for Amazon Prime