What’s the Deal with Humidity, Anyway?

 

 

Have you ever gone outside and felt the air weighing on you? Or maybe you’ve noticed that it feels much hotter than it was yesterday, even though it’s the exact same temperature. How about when you get out of a steaming hot shower and dry off with a towel, only for your skin to still feel damp? 

 

Often, these strange sensations are the results of humidity. You may not be able to see it, but it is happening right in front of us in all climates!

 

What is humidity?

 

Humidity is simply the concentration of water vapor in the air. It’s not always as obvious as rain, and it’s usually invisible. Think of it as the difference between a hot, dry desert, and a tropical rainforest. 

 

There are different types of humidity and ways to measure how humid the air is. The most common forms are relative humidity and dew point. Relative humidityis theamount of moisture in the air relative to the temperature. This is what you hear about when you watch weather forecasts. It tells us the likeliness of precipitation, dew, or fog.

 

A measurement that you may be more familiar with is dew point. This is the temperature the air must be for water to condense and evaporate at the same rate. The higher the dew point, the more humid it is outside. This way is much easier for those of us who are not weather professionals to predict how we will feel when we step outside.

 

 

How does it work?

 

 

We know that through the water cycle, water evaporates and turns into water vapor. As the temperature rises, more water evaporates. At the point of saturation, the amount of water vapor is the highest it can be in the air. Because of all this water vapor, the air feels incredibly thick, stuffy, and humid.

 

 

How does humidity affect us?

 

The higher the relative humidity and dew point outside, the hotter it feels for us humans, because our sweat evaporates slower due to the already omnipresent moisture in the air. This kind of heat can also leave us dehydrated as it messes with our cooling mechanisms, so make sure you hydrate well and keep your body cool on humid days!

 

Humidity can have several effects indoors as well. Make sure you keep an eye on the humidity levels in your house as high levels can damage electronics and cause mold due to trapped water. Hot and humid climates are also more likely to be prone to hurricanes and flooding.


While humidity does sometimes have negative effects, it is still a necessary part of the water cycle. Without it, we wouldn’t have clouds, rain, or rainbows. And who wants that? Now that you know the science of it all, enjoy the outdoors this summer—but stay healthy and hydrated!

 

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QUIZ: How Well Do You Know the Water Cycle?

How much do you remember about the water cycle? The process is vital to life on Earth, yet we often only think of the water cycle when weather gets in the way of our plans. The water cycle also plays a major part in long-term climate change and global economics.

To test your knowledge of the process, we put a little quiz together. And if you have little ones at home, you can take this quiz with them for added fun, especially since the water cycle is typically taught in elementary school.

For the title of Aqua Expert:

1. Water covers approximately how much of the Earth’s surface?

a. The whole thing

b. One half

c. Three quarters

d. Two thirds

2. Clouds form during which step of the water cycle?

a. Melting

b. Evaporation

c. Condensation

d. Fluffing

3. Why is ocean water so salty?

a. So that boats can float

b. Salt cannot evaporate with water

c. A chef seasoned it that way

d. There are large natural salt blocks along the ocean floor

4. What is the proper name for the process of water evaporating from plants?

a. Transpiration

b. Perspiration

c. A temperate tantrum

d. Sweating greens

5. Which of the following is NOT a form of precipitation?

a. Sleet

b. Drought

c. Rain

d. Snow

Answers:

 

Image via NASA

 

1. (c) Three quarters. Water covers about 71 percent of Earth, or just under three quarters. It’s no wonder most evaporation occurs on ocean surfaces!

2. (c) Condensation. Clouds form when water vapor condenses back into a liquid. The water droplets gather in the sky until they become too heavy, then fall back to earth as precipitation.

3. (b) Salt cannot evaporate with water. Small amounts of salt are released into fresh water rivers that naturally flow out to oceans and seas. The salt is left behind when water evaporates or freezes. Therefore, the ocean is always getting saltier!

4. (a) Transpiration. Humans lose water through breathing, and so do plants. In fact, 10 percent of water in the atmosphere is believed to come from transpiration.

5. (b) Drought. Drought refers to a lack of precipitation. While drought doesn’t immediately threaten us like other natural disasters, it can be one of the most expensive weather-related events to affect an area.  

How did you do? Which questions did you find simple or surprising? Let us know!

 

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