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efore we can figure out how to measure something, we have to have an idea

of what we're measuring—and what our measurements will mean. We


measure most things in scientific units of one kind or another, such as
kilograms, meters, or seconds; but humidity is slightly different, and we
typically measure it in two quite different ways.

One possible measurement is called the specific humidity, which is the


mass of water vapor present in a kilogram mass of air (including the water),
written in units such as grams per kilogram. There's a very similar
measurement called the mixing ratio, which is the mass of water vapor in a
kilogram mass of dry air, also written in units such as grams per kilogram.

A much more common measurement is called relative humidity, which is the


amount of water vapor in the air compared to the maximum amount there
could possibly be at that temperature, written as a percentage (without any
units). On a really wet and soggy day, the relative humidity is likely to be 90–
100 percent; on a dry day, with a dry wind blowing, and little or no chance of
rain, it's more likely to be 60–75 percent. When we talk about "humidity" as a
percentage, we mean relative humidity.

Because specific humidities are fairly meaningless to most people, weather


forecasts typically quote relative humidities—and user-friendly hygrometers
are calibrated (marked with measurements on their dials or displays) that way
too.