Science

Why Does the Wind Blow? A Synopsis of Weather

March 9, 2017
Windsock

I feel fortunate to live in North Carolina where we still have defined seasons, yet the seasons are rarely harsh.  Well, except for that balmy period in late July and August where the air outside feels like an armpit.  And then there are those times when it snows and whole towns shut down.  There is no bread, milk or toilet paper to be found in any store for miles.

Apparently snow and ice trigger a reminder in North Carolinians that they are out of such things.

toilet paper rolls - weather

During each snowmageddon northerners point out that in their hometowns the show would go on.  Schools would not close. They add that such havoc would not be reeked upon the grocery stores in the ‘north.’  I hop in the car to head there because I need bread.

My local hardware store shoves aside the Adirondack chairs and lines up sleds.  I am wondering where they keep them the other 360 days of the year.  It is a small hardware store.

When we moved twice in three months I thought about donating our sleds just so I wouldn’t have to move them.  Then I remembered how difficult they are to find here.

We all joke about these things, native North Carolinians included.  Regardless, I must defend North Cackilacky:  North Carolina does not have the infrastructure to support snow and ice (a.k.a. salt trucks and snow plows galore).  NC does not have the best roads.  And when NC gets snow it is usually tucked in by ice and let me just say it is a little different than snow to trek through with your front-wheel drive cross-over.

snowy road - weather

I love my northern friends.  I do.  I love you.  But I scowl at you from behind my unnecessary sunglasses when I see you driving your suburban like you are the queen or king of snow and ice.  And, when you talk about the comedic situation that happens at the grocery stores when it snows around here I smile and chuckle with you, but I am rolling my eyes on the inside as I quickly hide a gallon of milk behind my back.  Because – hello!  The snow is the trigger to help me remember I needed milk and toilet paper!

The other thing about the great state of North Carolina is that it has weather multiple personality disorder.  February could give you 29 degrees or 80 degrees.  There is no way of knowing unless weather is your hobby or unless you are a weather forecaster.

Speaking of which – how can one be wrong so much and still be gainfully employed?

Admittedly, I am a little passive when it comes to weather.  For me a weather assessment involves two things:  looking out the window and/or opening the door. I feel like I am a relatively advanced upright-walking species who should be able to leverage my senses to evaluate the predictions for the outside when needed.  If it is dark outside I resort to the basic app on my phone while I sip coffee.

Plus, weather is mysterious.

Translation:  I am technology resistant.

My husband is always sneaking my phone and updating my apps.  It drives him crazy that at any given time I will have more than 20 updates that are needed.  Oops.  He insists it is because the app companies have virus and hacking resistant stuff they need to send to me for their app.

Translation:  it drives him bonkers.

At this point I find it to be a fun game.  It has become my sole mission in life to not update my apps forcing him to take on snow leopard tactics to get to my phone and update them without me knowing.  It is a fun game until he wins and I ponder why my FaceBook looks different.

We are the yin and the yang.  The technology resistant married to Kip from Napoleon Dynamite.   “I love technology…I love technology..”  Okay.  Not really aside form the technology thing.  Unlike Kip, my husband is not training to be a cage fighter and plus he is way cuter and makes better nachos.  Also, my name is not Lafawnda.

Kip, I mean …my husband, has a special weather app on his phone where he can pull up the moving radar with the color coordination of the storm systems.  He shows me and the kids.  I look at it and nod, secretly wondering where exactly we are under the red, orange and green blobs that repeatedly move left to right, where the now is vs. the future and if the screen could cause me to have a seizure soon.

Worse yet – my kids have become so enamored with this function they always want to see it.

We are outside a lot.  And now – even the friendliest-looking poofy cloud in the world floating carefree above their heads could prompt one of them to run at me begging to see the weather because they think a terrible storm is coming.  I don’t have the app.

“Mommy!  Can I see the weather on your phone?!  I see a bad cloud.  I think a bad storm is coming.”

No baby.  That is a friendly cloud.

friendly clouds - weather

The kids are wrong about those clouds 90% of the time.  This makes me optimistic that they can still be weather forecasters.

They are weather-paranoid.  I blame it on the weather apps.  I blame it on Kip.

Oh. Annnnnnd that one time we were kayaking in the lake (as opposed to on dry land) and we did not quite make it home before a big storm hit and lightening was flashing over our heads while giant rain drops plunked us in the face.  They barely know what death is, but they knew of its possibility then.

Thankfully, we lived to tell about it.  Unfortunately, the other people who live in our cove learned that I can yell, “PADDDDDLLLLLLE!” really, really loudly.  And that my voice can sometimes sound like a, for lack of a better term, psychopath’s.

Last week, the weather gods were calling for heavy winds.  News to me until I had my hair restyled by the wind while I walked the dog.  The hubs called me on the phone to alert me, so that I could collect any wanton toys from the yard.  He was concerned they were going to blow away.  I picked them up while rolling my eyes and sighing.

The rain came.  The wind came.  Nothing blew away.

Not because I put the things away (because you know how that works…you put things away and then there are these other people who take the things back out and don’t put them back), but because the wind didn’t blow that hard.

Don’t get me wrong.  Weather forecasting is important.  It has a place in almost every news broadcast and famously scrolls along the bottom of the screen when a forecaster isn’t at the helm speaking of the highs and lows for the day or the week.  I just don’t think I need to see the system as it moves minute by minute across my area.

It is storming.  I know this and it too shall pass.

I do concede that I might consult Kip’s phone before we go on an kayak trip in the afternoon … in the summertime.  Fine.  I will check it.

I really possess a lot of weather ignorance – chosen or not.  I should embrace technology more.  I should give the wind a hug.  I don’t really know what causes thunderstorms, what warm and cold fronts are exactly and what causes wind…

Weather is everywhere on Earth.  Weather is always.  The sun doesn’t rise or set without weather being there to let it through or mask it.

sunrise clouds - weather

Weather is often taken for granted because it is just always there.  Weather should be understood.

Read and understand with me.

Weather Fronts

A weather front is a boundary between two air masses.  They are super simple.

A cold front is the region where a cold air mass is replacing a warmer air mass.  Cold fronts usually move from northwest to southeast.  Temperatures can drop more than 15 degrees within an hour when a cold front passes through.

A warm front is the opposite of a cold front.  A warm air mass is replacing a cold air mass.  They usually move from southwest to northeast.  The air behind the front is warmer and more humid than the air ahead of it.  Warm fronts move more slowly than cold fronts because it is more-difficult to push against the cold, dense air.

Thunderstorms

Most often, thunderstorms occur in spring or summer with warm and moist air.  As that air rises above cooler air, its vapor condenses into liquid droplets to form clouds.  The condensing process releases heat, which warms the surrounding air.

The warm air pushes upward and the vapor morphs from a cumulous cloud into a cumulonimbus thunderhead, which accumulates moisture and electric charge.  One of these clouds can reach several miles in height.

thundercloud - weather

Droplets get bigger and heavier near the top of the cloud and eventually fall.  Warm updrafts continue to lift smaller droplets up.  Water particles collide and knock negatively charged electrons from rising particles.

An electrical field forms within the storm.

The bottom is negatively charged and the top is positively charged.  This creates lightening, which my children have informed me is six times hotter than the surface of the sun (and they are right).

The air in the path of the lightening expands so violently it compacts the air around it causing a shock wave which we know as thunder.

lightening strike - weather

Wind

Wind is the movement of air caused by the uneven heating of Earth by the sun.  I had no idea the sun was at the helm of the wind!

When atmospheric pressure is higher at one place than at surrounding locations at the same altitude the air flows equalize the imbalance and create wind. Essentially, high pressure air moves into areas of lower pressure and that creates winds.

windsock - weather

So in March (in NC) the sun is shining on the Earth longer and heating up the atmosphere.  As a result the air rises causing a low pressure system and the air flows into that low pressure.  This is why March comes in like a lion.  It goes out like a lamb because the contrast of air temperature is less, thus the air is moving less.

There you have it.  Three weather principles you can apply almost daily.  Next time the wind blows, make sure you share with one of your kiddos not to worry – that it’s just the air trying to equalize.

xo and journey on,

the mamabrain at mamabrains

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