Relative humidity is the percent of water vapor in the air compared to what would be present if the air were saturated. Fully saturated air is fog. Relative humidity is always expressed as a percentage.
Relative humidity can be determined by measuring the dry bulb and wet bulb temperatures in the field. Using these measured values, the dew point and relative humidity can be determined with the use of tables. These psychrometric tables are valid for specific elevation ranges because relative humidity and dewpoint change with atmospheric pressure, which varies with elevation.
Relative humidity also changes with temperature. Dewpoint, however, remains nearly the same as long as the moisture content of the air is not changing. This fact can be used to help estimate the minimum relative humidity for the afternoon, using the predicted high temperature for the day and the observed dewpoint. On a typical sunny day, temperatures in the lower atmosphere will decrease about 5.5 degrees F for every 1,000 feet in elevation. As temperatures approach the dewpoint, the same amount of water vapor will result in a higher relative humidity.
Psychrometric tables are provided in belt weather kits. You must use the chart for the elevation at which you are taking the observation because relative humidity and dewpoint change with atmospheric pressure, which varies with elevation.
Psychrometric tables relate dry bulb, wet bulb, dewpoint, and relative humidity.
Click on the graphic below to view a multimedia version of the psychrometric table lesson (includes audio), or read the text version of the steps involved below:
1) Locate the wet bulb temperature among the numbers along the top row of the table. These are the wet bulb temperatures and are shown in green.
2) Locate the dry bulb temperature among the numbers in the far left column. These are dry bulb temperatures and are shown in black.
3) For a specific dry bulb temperature and wet bulb temperature, find the intersection of the appropriate row and column. The values at that point are the dewpoint temperature and the relative humidity. Within each box, the dewpoint is the top number (in blue), given in degrees Fahrenheit. The relative humidity is the bottom number (in red), given as a percent.
For example, for a dry bulb temperature of 40°F and a wet bulb temperature of 35°F, the dewpoint is 29° F and the relative humidity is 65%.
Test your knowledge by completing the following exercises. For each exercise, use your mouse to drag the magnifying square to find the appropriate relative humidity and dewpoint and type your answers into the spaces provided.