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Why Is Spring So Windy?

Boldmethod

You've probably noticed over the past few months that there are a lot of windy and gusty days in the spring. But why is that the case?

We sat down with National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Scott Entrekin of the Boulder, Colorado office to discuss why the winds seem to pick up during certain seasons, leaving you stuck on the ground.

How Is Wind Created?

Before we start to unpack why winds become so strong in the spring, let's quickly review where wind comes from.

How is wind created? The short answer: a difference in air pressure.

High-pressure air seeks low-pressure air as it attempts to find its' equilibrium, causing anything from a gentle breeze to a gale-force wind.

You've probably heard that all weather phenomena are a result of the uneven heating of the earth's surface, but how does this relate to the wind?

Since the earth's surface is not uniform, the sun heats things like grass, sand, and water differently, leading to different air temperatures. This temperature gradient changes the density of air, causing rising and sinking motions.

So what determines the strength of the wind? There are several factors, which we'll cover in the sections below.

The Jetstream

The polar jet stream doesn't stay in one position all year, "[the] main polar jet is way north through the Arctic/Canada during the summer months..." says Entrekin, and in the winter it usually moves south and intensifies. Think of it like geese migrating, south in the winter, north in the summer.

Entrekin also says "jet[stream] positions and especially the entrance and exit regions of the jet will determine the amount of dynamical lift/ascent and hence give you clouds and precipitation."

According to Entrekin, there is a correlation between the intensity of the jetstream with surface winds.

Pressure Gradients

High-pressure air seeks lower-pressure air. The closer the region of opposing pressures, the stronger the winds will be. This is called a pressure gradient.

You can see a visualization of pressure gradients on surface analysis prog charts.

"The closer the isobars are together, the tighter the pressure gradient and hence the stronger the winds," says Entrekin.

Wind Direction

You can also determine the direction the wind is blowing by looking at the surface analysis chart. As a result of the earth's rotation in the northern hemisphere, low-pressure systems will spin to the left (counter-clockwise), and high-pressure systems will spin to the right (clockwise).

Using this knowledge, along with the fact that winds around these pressure systems follow the isobars, you can determine the wind direction along your route.

The Sun

As we enter the spring months of the year, the sun's angle relative to the surface of the earth increases, allowing more direct exposure to the ground causing warm air to rise. When this warm air rises, air rushes in to 'fill' in where it left, causing greater surface winds.

Hot air is more buoyant, which will cause a rising action, while cooler air wants to sink because it is denser.

Fronts

In the fall and spring, stronger fronts form. This "bigger contrast with cold and warm air masses... can increase wind speeds on the surface." says Entrekin.

Like many weather phenomena, the higher winds of spring in the US aren't just the product of any one event. They're a combination of the shift of the jetstream, the sun's angle on the earth, and air masses.

Nicolas Shelton

Nicolas is a private pilot from Southern California. He is currently studying at Purdue University, where he is working on advanced pilot ratings. You can reach him at nicolas@boldmethod.com.

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