Wind

A gentle breeze cools the home on a hot summer day. A colorful kite floats high above the heads of a picnicking family at play. The tinkling of chimes beneath a baby's bedroom window lulls the infant to sleep. With sails unfurled, a sailboat races toward the horizon.  The wind is friend.

A hurricane roars inland, destroying homes and communities. Without warning, a thunderstorm rolls into town, dampening picnic plans. The slamming of shutters outside a baby's bedroom window shatters the infant's sleep. Surf's up, and the waves pound wickedly, whipping the sailboat toward the rocks. The wind is fierce. Enemy or ally? Friend or foe? Our relationship with the wind is often uncertain.

The air of our atmosphere moves in many directions and at varying speeds. It can be as gentle as a spring breeze or as dangerous as a tornado. But did you ever wonder about wind? What forces cause air to move? What would Earth's environment be like without the global and local circulation of wind?

Air is a fluid which moves in circuits, powered by unequal heating of large masses of air. As the Earth's surface is warmed differentially, the air above these surfaces absorbs different amounts of heat. Warmer air rises while cool air sinks which creates the environment for flowing air movement. Winds flow across parallels of latitude, taking heat from equatorial regions to polar regions. This equalizing process causes wind and is of major importance in determining the environments for life on land, global as well as local weather patterns, and a clean, inexpensive source of energy for humans.

Wind is air that is in motion relative to the rotating surface of the Earth. Any wind possesses a three-dimensional structure - that is, it has both horizontal and vertical components. The horizontal components, however, are considerably greater than the vertical ones. A fairly typical horizontal wind speed might be 50 km/h (31.25 mph). Vertical wind speeds are usually measured only in tenths of a kilometer per hour. Consequently, the term wind has become synonymous with the horizontal components of the winds.

In meteorology and in common usage, the location from which the wind blows is used to indicate the wind's direction. For example, a so called northwesterly wind is one that blows from the northwest.


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