The Humidity Deception

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Did you know that on most occasions when the relative humidity is higher, it is cooler, and often when it is between 90 and 100 percent you have a coat on? People have the misconception that a high humidity means it is hot, sultry and muggy. However, mostly the opposite is the case. As temperatures fall the relative humidity normally rises because the amount of water vapor in the air is mostly reasonably constant and air at lower temperatures holds less water vapor. Relative humidity is the ratio of water vapor in the air compared to the amount of water vapor the same air at the same temperature holds when it is saturated. Hence if the amount of water vapor in the air remains constant and the temperature falls the relative humidity rises.

The humidity values given in the media are relative humidity readings, therefore, in most occasions you should associate a high humidity with a cool damp night, heavy dew, a fog, condensation, or rainfall. Low humidity occurs when it is hot, dry, clear, sunny, windy and when evaporation is high. Therefore, it is common on a cool night to have a relative humidity between 90 and 100 percent and to experience the lowest relative humidity at the same time as the maximum temperature occurs.

However, if two places have the same temperature and one has a low humidity and the other a higher humidity, the one with the higher humidity will feel more hot, muggy and sweaty. This is probably why people are confused.

There is also absolute humidity which unlike relative humidity measures the quantity of water vapor in the air. The quantity of water vapor the air can hold rises with temperature. Therefore on most occasions, the higher the absolute humidity the more hot and muggy you feel. Absolute humidity is seldom measured or used.

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