What's a Windsock Used For?

Written by tricia lahl
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What's a Windsock Used For?
Windsocks are primarily used in the United States as a weather tool. (windsock image by Tamara Kulikova from Fotolia.com)

The windsock, sometimes called a wind cone, is used to measure wind speed and direction. It has a history that dates to early Rome, where it began as a military flag. Since that time, it's been used in cultures around the world as a flag, banner or weather instrument.

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Measuring Wind Direction

Wind blows into the larger end of the windsock causing the smaller end to point toward the direction that the wind is flowing. Wind direction is given as a standard compass direction from where the wind originates. A windsock pointing west indicates an easterly breeze.

What's a Windsock Used For?
Wind socks are often used at airports. (windsock image by Alfonso d'Agostino from Fotolia.com)

Measuring Wind Speed

A windsock is placed on a pole in a high location so it can move freely in the wind and be easily seen. Wind speed is shown by the angle that the windsock is hanging. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has set the reference standard as being 15 knots, or 17mph, for a fully inflated windsock, and 3 knots as the minimum wind speed needed to move it.

What's a Windsock Used For?
The Federal Aviation Administration set reference standards for measuring wind speed with a windsock. (wind sock image by JASON WINTER from Fotolia.com)

Common Locations

Windsocks can be found at seaports, airports and even on windy mountain roads. They provide a quick visual reference of wind conditions and can be critical to proper navigation. They are also sometimes used in chemical manufacturing to measure dangerous gas leaks.


Windsocks can be traced back to around 100 A.D. It's believed that the early Romans used conical shaped banners to represent different military groups. The modern-day windsock has its origins in Japan and China where they were made out of silk or even paper. In Japan, koi-shaped windsocks, called koi noburi, are used to celebrate Boy's Day. A koi noburi is flown on a tall bamboo pole for the father of the house along with one for each of his sons. The father's koi noburi is often black, while the sons are brightly coloured. The eldest son is represented by a red koi.

What's a Windsock Used For?
Windsocks have been used as banners to represent special events. (windsock image by Sirena Designs from Fotolia.com)

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