What is a Barometer?

A barometer is a scientific instrument used in meteorology to measure atmospheric pressure. Pressure tendency can forecast short term changes in the weather. Numerous measurements of air pressure are used within surface weather analysis to help find surface troughs, high pressure systems, and frontal boundaries.


Evangelista Torricelli is universally credited with inventing the barometer in 1643.

Mercury barometers
A mercury barometer has a glass tube with a height of at least 84 cm, closed at one end, with an open mercury-filled reservoir at the base. The weight of the mercury creates a vacuum in the top of the tube. Mercury in the tube adjusts until the weight of the mercury column balances the atmospheric force exerted on the reservoir. High atmospheric pressure places more force on the reservoir, forcing mercury higher in the column. Low pressure allows the mercury to drop to a lower level in the column by lowering the force placed on the reservoir. Since higher temperature at the instrument will reduce the density of the mercury, the scale for reading the height of the mercury is adjusted to compensate for this effect.

In 1646, Blaise Pascal along with Pierre Petit, had repeated and perfected Torricelli’s experiment and went even further to test the mechanical theory. If, as suspected by mechanical philosophers like Torricelli and Pascal, air had lateral weight, the weight of the air would be less at higher altitudes. Therefore, Pascal wrote to his brother-in-law, Florin Perier, who lived near a mountain called the Puy de Dome, asking him to perform a crucial experiment. Perier was to take a barometer up the Puy de Dome and make measurements along the way of the height of the column of mercury. He was then to compare it to measurements taken at the foot of the mountain to see if those measurements taken higher up were in fact smaller. In September 1648, Perier carefully and meticulously carried out the experiment, and found that Pascal’s predictions had been correct. The mercury barometer stood lower the higher one went

Aneroid Barometers
An aneroid barometer, invented in 1843 by French scientist Lucien Vidie uses a small, flexible metal box called an aneroid cell (capsule), which is made from an alloy of beryllium and copper. The evacuated capsule (or usually more capsules) is prevented from collapsing by a strong spring. Small changes in external air pressure cause the cell to expand or contract. This expansion and contraction drives mechanical levers such that the tiny movements of the capsule are amplified and displayed on the face of the aneroid barometer. Many models include a manually set needle which is used to mark the current measurement so a change can be seen. In addition, the mechanism is made deliberately “stiff” so that tapping the barometer reveals whether the pressure is rising or falling as the pointer moves.


Changes in atmospheric pressure are one of the most commonly used ways to forecast changes in the weather because weather patterns are carried around in regions of high and low pressure. Weather maps use lines of equal pressure called isobars to indicate areas of equal pressure.

A slowly rising atmospheric pressure, over a week or two, typically indicates settled weather that will last a long time. A sudden drop in atmospheric pressure over a few hours often forecasts an approaching storm, which will not last long, with heavy rain and strong winds.

By carefully watching the pressure on a barometer, you can forecast local weather using these simple guidelines:

·         Decreasing barometric pressure indicates storms, rain and windy weather.
·         Rising barometric pressure indicates good, dry, and colder weather.
·         Slow, regular and moderate falls in pressure suggest a low pressure area is passing in a nearby region. Marked changes in the weather where you are located are unlikely.
·         Small rapid decreases in pressure indicate a nearby change in weather. They are usually followed by brief spells of wind and showers.
·         A quick drop in pressure over a short time indicates a storm is likely in 5 to 6 hours.
·         Large, slow and sustained decreasing pressure forecasts a long period of poor weather. The weather will be more pronounced if the pressure started rising before it began to drop.
·         A rapid rise in pressure, during fair weather and average, or above average pressure, indicates a low pressure cell is approaching. The pressure will soon decrease forecasting poorer weather.
·         Quickly rising pressure, when the pressure is low, indicates a short period of fair weather is likely.
·         A large, slow and sustained rise in pressure forecasts a long period of good weather is on its way.

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Posted on March 1, 2013, in Useful Information. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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