Whether it’s the merest hint of a warm summer breeze gently tickling your face or the most violent storm battering its way across the land, wind is a weather feature that’s impossible to miss – but do we ever stop to wonder just where the wind comes from?
It’s all down to temperature – the sun warms up the earth, especially around the equatorial regions. The air that is warmed by the sun rises up into the atmosphere, sucking in cooler air below, creating currents – and voilá, we have wind.
Wind can be extreme – think of hurricanes (aka typhoons if they’re in the north west Pacific and cyclones in the India and the South Pacific). Whatever name you give them, they are all basically one formidable column of air that means business!
Hurricanes are formed when warm air from the warm ocean rises into the atmosphere, where it meets cooler air – the rising water vapour generates the formation of a tall column of clouds and creates an intense area of low pressure; more and more air gets sucked in and the rising air begins to spin, creating a hurricane.
When a hurricane hits land, it will start to weaken, but sadly this is often only once it has already wreaked havoc. The most severe hurricane recorded to date (back in 1969) had wind speeds of an unbelievable 190 mph (bear in mind that humans will begin to lose their footing in winds of 70mph!!)
Speaking of strong winds brings us to jet streams. These fast-moving winds travel around the world about 5-7 miles above the earth’s surface. Jet streams are powered, again by temperature exchanges from the equator to the poles, which causes air circulation from warm to cold and back again.
Jet streams can dominate weather patterns. Take the notoriously unpredictable weather in the UK, for example, where a strong jet stream can dump low pressure systems (rain, wind and storms) from across the Atlantic; or conversely, the jet stream can meander further south, bringing along unseasonably warm air; but then again, it can kink to the north and bring down an icy blast of artic cold brrrh! We have to enjoy or endure whatever the wind blows our way!
As well as being the bringer of our weather, the wind can also be our friend – we can borrow some of its awesome power: you might immediately think of the colossal new wind turbines that are continually being erected across the globe to use wind power to create energy – but remember that humans have been hitching a ride from the wind for centuries – consider majestic sailing ships, windmills and early wind pumps, which have all been around for centuries. We love to embrace the power of the wind – sail boarding, paragliding, hot air balloons – even flying a kite, is a simple pleasure provided by the wind.
It’s worth mentioning that the growing change in the earth’s climate is contributing to stronger winds and therefore the potential for more severe weather and disruptive storms and this is sadly becoming more apparent as we see average global temperatures rise, which is another good reason for us all to channel our efforts into helping to slow down climate change.
So, there you have it – the wind can be benevolent – it can calm us with the welcome relief of a cooling breeze on a hot day; it can entertain us by whipping our kites high into the air and it can even help us to power our homes; but it can also be cruel – it can batter us with harsh gusts; it can bring disruption upon us; it can flatten our homes and even take lives, so we must respect it as well as enjoy it.
After all, it’s an ill wind that brings no good.