It flys our kites and pushes our sails. It sometimes even puts a wrench in our plans. There can be a love/hate relationship with wind depending on what it’s doing, and all of that depends on how our atmosphere chooses to behave at the surface and aloft.
Wind is a very powerful force that often dictates our daily weather as well as our daily activities. There are many factors that influence our wind such as the jet stream above our heads, fronts and the movement of air masses, and atmospheric pressure changes.
Local weather that impacts our daily lives is highly driven by these larger scale global circulations and patterns where air rises and sinks in the vertical.
The main reason we have wind is due to the uneven heating of the Earth’s surface. This heating causes air to move as it rises and falls creating differences in air pressure. We call these differences in pressure high and low pressure systems, and use them to define loosely what the weather will be like over an area. When air rises or falls it has to go somewhere, and the displacement of air creates a rush of air which we call wind. Let’s break it down even further:
As the sun heats the Earth most directly at the equator, warmer air is transported poleward meeting colder air from the north. As different air masses collide they often produce unsettled weather which is always accompanied by some sort of winds.
The boundary between two different air masses is known as a front. The complex nature and movement of fronts help drive our weather and winds.
Cold fronts are areas where a colder air mass replaces a warmer air mass, and warm fronts are areas where a warmer air mass replaces a colder air mass. A great example of that was this morning when all of that hot, muggy air was met with a cold front bringing in refreshing and cooler air.
Think of the wind as the atmosphere trying to get its act together, or trying to balance itself out. When the weather is generally calm the winds are low or nonexistent, but when a storm system is on the way in or out, it often brings with it windy conditions that can be sometimes damaging in nature.
Putting things in perspective, our breezy day today is the result of cooler air moving in to replace the hot air we felt yesterday after a cold front pushed through earlier this morning. PLUS, another front pushing through tomorrow evening will stir up some small gusts as well.
There are other things that create winds on a smaller scale such as lake and land breezes, thunderstorm gust fronts, derechos, and tornadic winds.
The wind can be as friendly as a small breeze, or be as destructive as damaging wind gusts produced in strong thunderstorms, tornadoes, and even hurricanes. The power of wind can be remarkable, and plays such an important role in our every day weather.
Images courtesy of the NWS.