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The two primary temperature scales of Celsius and Fahrenheit side-by-side calling out water freezing, body temperature and water boiling

Fahrenheit and Celsius

The two most commonly used temperature scales are Celsius and Fahrenheit. The Celsius scale, named after Swedish astronomer Anders Celsius, sets 0C at the freezing point of water and 100C as the boiling point of water at 1 atmosphere of pressure — normal air pressure at sea level. The Fahrenheit scale has 32F as the freezing point of water and 212F as the boiling point. With 180F between freezing and boiling that means each degree Celsius is 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit.

Several accounts of the creation of the Fahrenheit scale exist but the general gist is that Daniel Fahrenheit set 0F at the freezing point of a brine mixture, 32F at the freezing point of water, and another point at body temperature around 96F (now 98.6F). He divided up the scale between these points giving a scale with helpful resolution.

It's interesting to think that for most of history, there was no comparable way to say how hot or cold something was.

Having spent time on both sides of the Atlantic I've tried to get at least somewhat familiar with both of them. To convert between them in my head, at least around most air temperatures, I use a quick approximation. As 32F is 0C, and for each one Celsius you move almost two Fahrenheit, you can roughly go from Fahrenheit to Celsius by subtracting 32 and dividing by 2 (or a little less to be closer). So 50F is approximately 9C (actually 10C), or 86F is approximately 27C (actually 29.4C). It's not perfect, but it's often good enough if you're trying to work out if it'll be hot out. To go from Celsius to Fahrenheit, it's the reverse, times by 2 and add 32.

There are also at least two simple anchor points that can help just by swapping the digits around:

  • 82F is near enough 28C
  • 61F is near enough 16C

Both scales are now defined relative to the Kelvin scale, which sets the lowest point of 0K at absolute zero, where basically all movement stops. Zero on the Kelvin scale is around -273C. As such, the Kelvin scale, though helpful for scientists, is not very practical for discussing the weather.

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