What is Ambient Air Temperature?

It's a Fancy Weather Term for Ordinary Air Temperature

Sun in the sky
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In weather, ambient temperature refers to the current air temperature -- the overall temperature of the outdoor air that surrounds us.

Unlike your maximum high and minimum low temperatures, it tells you nothing about what's forecast. It simply tells what the air temperature is right now, outside your door. As such, its value constantly changes minute-by-minute.

In other words, ambient air temperature is the same thing as "ordinary" air temperature.

When indoors, ambient temperature is sometimes called room temperature. To learn more about room temperature, including how warm or cool it is, read What Temperature is Room Temperature?

(When calculating the dew point temperature, the ambient temperature is also referred to as the dry-bulb temperature. The dry bulb temperature is a measure of the dry air temperature without evaporative cooling.)

Do's and Dont's of Measuring Ambient Air Temperature

To measure the ambient air temperature, all you need is a thermometer and to follow these simple rules. Don't and you'll risk getting a "bad" temperature reading!

  • Keep the thermometer out of direct sunlight! If the sun is shining on your thermometer, it's going to record the heat from the sun -- not the ambient heat in the air. For this reason, always be careful to place thermometers in the shade.
  • Don't place your thermometer too low near the ground or too high above it. Too low, and it will pick up excess heat from the ground. Too high and it will cool from winds. A height of around 5 feet above ground works best.
  • Place the thermometer in an open, well ventilated area. This keeps the air circulating freely around it, which means it will represent with the surrounding environment.
  • Keep the thermometer covered. Shielding it from the sun, rain, snow, and frost provides a standardized environment.  
  • Place it over a natural (grassy or dirt) surface. Concrete, pavement, and stone attract and store heat, which they can then radiate towards your thermometer giving it a higher temperature reading than the actual environment.

    More: Why bank and LED display thermometers can't be trusted

    Ambient vs. Apparent ("Feels-Like") Temperatures

    Ambient temperature does not take into account the relative humidity of air. (The amount of moisture (mugginess) or humidity in the air can create higher temperatures which will cause the heat index to increase. Neither does it take into account the wind conditions. (Winds can play a role in how cold a temperature will feel to a human skin. The wind chill factor can cause the air to have a perceived lower temperature.)

    To learn more about summer's "feels-like" temperature, the heat index, and winter's "feels-like" temperature, the wind chill, read Why We Experience Feel Like Temperatures.

    Edited by Tiffany Means