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Regarding variable wind direction in METAR reports, what are the criteria for VARIABLE when the authority uses "VRB"?

An Advisory Circular mentions the authority uses "V" when the wind direction varies by 60 degrees. But how about "VRB"?

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    $\begingroup$ Variable less than 60° and less than 6 knots. If you don't get an answer by the morning I'll find the official source. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Jun 1 '17 at 4:18
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the reply. As long as I read AC, I couldn't find the answer. $\endgroup$
    – Aviat
    Jun 1 '17 at 4:30
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There are two official sources to take into account:

  • ICAO Annex 3 to the Chicago Convention is the reference for meteorological information. Annex 3 applies to all ICAO members (countries), unless stated otherwise.

  • Members departing from ICAO recommendations state differences in their country AIP, section GEN 1.7.

ICAO Annex 3

§ 4.1.5.2:

1) when the total variation is 60° or more and less than 180° and the wind speed is 6 km/h (3 kt) or more, such directional variations shall be reported as the two extreme directions between which the surface wind has varied

2) when the total variation is 60° or more and less than 180° and the wind speed is less than 6 km/h (3 kt), the wind direction shall be reported as variable with no mean wind direction; or

3) when the total variation is 180° or more, the wind direction shall be reported as variable with no mean wind direction"

So for ICAO there are three cases:

  1. The wind is significant (more than 6 km/h) and there is a predominant direction (varying by less than 60°), possibly with some gusts: the three data are reported in the form 31015G27KT.

  2. There is a significant wind (more than 6 km/h) but the direction varies a lot (between 60° and 180°): Mean direction, speed and gust are reported in the same form, and direction range is reported using V, e.g. 31015G27KT 280V350.

  3. There is no clear wind direction, either because the speed is low (less than 6 km/h) or the direction varies by more than 180°: No direction is reported, only a speed with the indication VRB is used, e.g. VRB02KT.

Country AIP

US AIP:

The wind direction may be considered variable if, during the 2-min evaluation period, the wind speed is 6 KT or less. Also, the wind direction shall be considered variable if, during the 2-min evaluation period, it varies by 60 deg or more when the wind speed is greater than 6 KT.

Practices define wind gusts as rapid fluctuations in wind speed with a variation of 10 knots or more between peaks and lulls. Wind speed data for the most recent 10 minutes is examined and a gust, the maximum instantaneous wind speed during that 10-minute period, is reported if the definition above is met during that period.

ATC instructions given in PANS ATM Doc 4444, § 12.3.1.7a are also refined:

In the U.S., the criterion for a variable wind is: wind speed greater than 6 kt and direction varies by 60 degrees or more. If the wind is >1 kt but <6 kt, the wind direction may be replaced by ”VRB” followed by the speed or reported as observed. “VRB” would be spoken as “wind variable at .”

In the US, VRB indication is slightly different than in ICAO recommendations: VRB can be used regardless of the direction variation, when the wind is less than 6 kt (not 6 km/h) or if the variation is more than 60°. This covers the last two cases of ICAO.


METAR panel at Weeze tower (EDLV)
METAR panel at Weeze tower (EDLV). source: Airplane Pictures, photo by Zonan Adolfse

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Thanks to mins, I could find out the answer for USA.

US AIP Section GEN 1.7 mentions below;

In the U.S., the criterion for a variable wind is: wind speed greater than 6 kt and direction varies by 60 degrees or more. If the wind is >1 kt but <6 kt, the wind direction may be replaced by ”VRB” followed by the speed or reported as observed. “VRB” would be spoken as “wind variable at .”

The conclusion is VRB is used when variable less than 60° and less than 6 kt.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't seem to add anything to the existing answer. Please accept the other answer instead of repeating it as another anwser. This is a Q&A site, not a forum $\endgroup$ Mar 15 '20 at 15:37

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