Weather seems like an awfully short word to need an abbreviation, but it has one: WX. This may seem odd as there’s no “x” in the word “weather,” so where did it come from and why was it used? The answer lies in how we communicated in the days before telephones.
Why Is WX the Abbreviation for Weather?
Up until the mid-1800s, there was no instantaneous way to communicate. The fastest way to do so was via postal mail, and it wasn’t fast at all. A letter that takes just a few days today to arrive at its destination took several weeks then, as mail needed to be loaded aboard trains to make long distance trips, and it was delivered to and from those trains by horse-drawn carriage. Delays were common at any point on this trip.
This changed in 1836 after inventor Samuel Morse demonstrated the use of electricity to send electrical pulses over wires, called the telegraph. He also created a code to represent the characters, a pattern of short and long sounds which are often referred to as “dits” and “dahs.”
While this revolutionized communication, it was still relatively slow since an entire sentence with dozens of characters could take minutes to send. As a result, morse code operators began to develop a set of internationally standardized abbreviations, just like the “BRB,” “LOL,” and “JK” of today’s text communication.
The origins of “WX” aren’t exactly clear, but there are a few possibilities. Some say it’s because “WX” in Morse code has a nice sound to it (dit-dah-dah, dah-dit-dit-dah) while others speculate that it had something to do with X being also used for “exchange:” WX being “weather exchange.” It could also be just for continuity’s sake—several longer words are abbreviated by their first letter followed by an x, such as TX for transmit, RX for receive, and PX for press.
WX as an abbreviation was likely used very early on in telegraphy. The U.S. Weather Bureau—the forerunner to the modern National Weather Service was initially part of the U.S. Signal Bureau. This was the agency within the government tasked with operating the communications network for the armed forces, and they made heavy use of the telegraph system.
Both the armed forces and those early meteorologists found great use in the telegraph since it allowed for the quick transmission of weather information across the country. In a time where satellites didn’t exist, this was the only way for meteorologists to know weather conditions elsewhere, and their careful analysis would help to improve weather forecasts drastically.
As communication networks improved, the use of WX spread elsewhere as a shorthand way to talk about the weather. Even in the early days of the Internet in the 1960s, it was still advantageous to abbreviate things as much as possible. The less data that needed to be sent, the quicker the message made it to the recipient. Up until recently, National Weather Service meteorologists used WX and a whole host of other weather-related abbreviations in forecast discussions sent between offices.
WX Uses Today
Today WX is limited to mostly meteorological uses, basically a shorthand like “BRB” in electronic communication. Some weather websites use it too, mainly because most good .com web addresses with the word “weather” in them have long since been scooped up by others. Others use it in hashtags to discuss weather—try searching for your two-letter state abbreviation and “wx” (i.e., #pawx), and you’ll likely find quite a bit of weather discussions about the weather in your state.