Beaufort scale, in full Beaufort wind force scale, scale devised in 1805 by Comdr. (later Admiral and Knight Commander of the Bath) Francis Beaufort of the British Navy for observing and classifying wind force at sea. Originally based on the effect of the wind on a full-rigged man-of-war, in 1838 it became mandatory for log entries in all ships in the Royal Navy. Altered to include observations of the state of the sea and phenomena on land as criteria, it was adopted in 1874 by the International Meteorological Committee for international use in weather telegraphy.
The Beaufort scale as originally drawn up made no reference to the speed of the wind, and various attempts, particularly during the 20th century, have been made to correlate the two. An attempt made in 1912 by the International Commission for Weather Telegraphers was interrupted by World War I. In 1921 G.C. Simpson was asked to formulate equivalents, which were accepted in 1926 by the Committee. In June 1939 the International Meteorological Committee adopted a table of values referring to an anemometer at a height of 6 metres (20 feet). This was not immediately adopted by the official weather services of the United States and Great Britain, which used the earlier scale referring to an anemometer at an elevation of 11 metres (36 feet). The Beaufort force numbers 13 to 17 were added by the U.S. Weather Bureau in 1955.
The scale is now rarely used by professional meteorologists, having been largely replaced by more objective methods of determining wind speeds. Nevertheless, it is still useful in estimating the wind characteristics over a large area, and it may be used to estimate the wind where there are no wind instruments. The Beaufort scale also can be used to measure and describe the effects of different wind velocities on objects on land or at sea. The terms for winds that are used by the U.S. National Weather Service sometimes differ from those used by other countries.