The wind’s mysterious impact on life

Do you have a bucket List? Well, my wife does and one item on her bucket list was to go for a sail boat ride. So, several weeks ago, when our daughter’s family came to visit we all went to Watkins Glen, where we went for a schooner excursion on Seneca Lake. The schooner was named True Love, and back in the 60’s the schooner appeared in the movie High Society. The weather was perfect; however, too perfect for there was no wind.

Although the captain at the helm tried to catch even the smallest of breeze, the whole excursion was done with a motor.

This got me to think about the fears the ancient mariners must have had when their ships entered the windless zone. I’m sure they felt hopeless, wondering if they would ever finish their journeys.

Although many early sailors lost their lives in the violent storms of the North Atlantic and the ice-choked seas in the area of Cape Horn, it was the absence of wind that the early sailors most feared. The early seamen depended on the wind to move their ships, since they did not have the luxury of motors to push their ships through the water.

One area the early seamen dreaded was the area known as the horse latitudes. This area is approximately 30 degrees north and south of the equator. These latitudes are characterized by calm winds and little precipitation. Sailing ships were often stuck there for weeks. The cargo of many of the ships that crossed these windless latitudes was listed as horses. Many horses died of thirst and starvation when food and water were scarce, and their carcasses were thrown overboard. It was not uncommon to see dead horses floating on the water; hence, the name of horse latitudes. If the ship’s captain misjudged the best place to cross these horse latitudes, the ship would be in trouble. Day after day the sea would lay stagnate, with the sails slatted and banged, useless and fretful. There were some days when the ships never moved, and on other days, the ships moved backwards.

There are places on earth that have more wind than other places. The origin of Chicago’s famous nickname of “the windy city” is not entirely clear; however, the most obvious explanation is that it comes from the frigid breezes blowing off Lake Michigan and sweeping through the city’s streets. According to a new analysis of recent weather data, Chicago isn’t even in the top ten of the windiest U.S. cities.

It seems quite obvious that the highest mountain in the world is going to have some strong winds. Mt Everest’s elevation lies just less than 30,000 feet, protruding well into the level where the jet stream is found. The position of the jet stream is not always over the same location so it is possible to catch a calm day at the summit. During the month of May, there is a known window when most summit attempts are made due to a lowered possibility of having the jet stream overhead.

In the United States, Mt. Washington has the highest wind due to being situated in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, where it is located in the convergence of several storm tracks. It’s a barrier for westerly winds and also influenced by lows that develop along the coastline. Mt. Washington also lies in between colder air in the North and warmer air in the South (west). When combined hurricane force winds can be observed many times during the year on the mountain top.

The least windy area in the United States appears to be the state of Arizona. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, appears to be the least windy city in the country, with an average annual wind speed of 4.1 mph. Interestingly, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Valdez, Alaska, all have average annual wind speeds near four mph; however, those cities can on occasion be very windy. Light winds in Alaska’s interior are a consequence of the terrain.

Wind does not simply blow in a straight line from areas of high to low pressure. Instead, the wind follows a curved path. The curvature of wind is caused by the rotation of the Earth and is known as the Coriolis Effect. French engineer Gaspard Coriolis discovered and explained that the path of any object set in motion above a rotating surface will curve in relation to objects on that surface. The Coriolis Effect causes winds to curve to the right in the Northern Hemisphere and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere, from the perspective of a person standing on the surface.

The Coriolis Effect gives rise to the myth that, in the southern hemisphere, when a toilet is flushed the water in the bowl goes in the opposite direction of the water when a toilet is flushed in the northern hemisphere. However, it does not because the toilet flush is more powerful than the rotation of the earth.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)