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Air Pressure and Wind
Highest recorded wind ever occurred
Mt. Washington, New Hampshire
on April 12, 1934
The speed was 372 km/h
Understanding Air
Air pressure is the least noticed
change that occurs in the weather.
However, changes in air pressure can
cause, changes in the wind, which
affects the amount of humidity in
the air, the temperature, and in
weather forecasting.
Air Pressure Defined
Air pressure is simply the pressure exerted by
the weight of the air above.
Average air pressure at sea level is 1
kilogram per square centimeter.

Air pressure is not exerted straight down.

Air pressure is exerted in all directions. So
the air pressure pushing up on the object
balances air pressure pushing down on an
Measuring Air Pressure
A barometer is the instrument used to
measure air pressure.
Normal air pressure is 1013.2 millibars or
29.92 inches of mercury.
Torricelli invented the barometer in 1643.
Torricelli found that when air pressure
increases, the mercury in the tube rises.
When air pressure decreases, so does the
height of the mercury column.
Today, a smaller more portable unit called
an aneroid barometer is used and can
easily be connected to a recording device.
Factors Affecting Wind
What causes wind?
Wind is the result of horizontal
differences in air pressure.
Air flows from airs of high pressure
to areas of low pressure.
Example: Opening and soda can or
tennis ball container.
Wind is natures way of balancing
inequalities in air pressure.
The unequal heating of Earths
surface generates pressure
Solar radiation is the ultimate
energy source for most wind.
Angle of the Suns Rays
Energy from the sun strikes Earth
most directly near the equator.
Near the poles, the same amount
of energy is spread out over a
larger area.
What would happen if the Earth
did not rotate?
There would be no friction between
the moving air and the Earths
Air would flow in a straight line
between areas of high pressure to
areas of low pressure.

There are three factors that combine

to control wind:
1 pressure differences
2 Coriolis effect affect direction
3 friction affects wind speed and
Pressure Differences
Wind is created by differences in
The greater the differences are, the
greater the wind speed is.
Isobars are lines on a map that connect
places of equal pressure.
Isobars that are closer together indicate a
greater pressure gradient than those lines
that are farther away
A steep pressure gradient causes
greater acceleration of a parcel of air
and higher winds
A less steep pressure gradient
causes a slower acceleration and
light winds.
The pressure gradient is the driving
force of winds.
Pressure gradients have both
magnitude and direction.
The spacing of the isobars
represents magnitude.
The direction of force is always
from areas of high pressure to
areas of low pressure and at right
angles to the isobars.
Pressure Gradient
Coriolis Effect
Wind does not always cross the isobars at
right angles.
This movement is due to the Earths
rotation and is named the Coriolis effect.
The Coriolis effect describes how Earths
rotation affects moving objects.
All free moving objects or fluids, including
the air, are deflected to the right (or
clockwise) of their path of motion in the
Northern Hemisphere.
In the Southern Hemisphere, winds are
deflected to the left or counter-clockwise.
Coriolis effect
Coriolis Effect
As Earth rotates,
the Coriolis effect
turns winds in the
toward the right.
The apparent shift in wind direction is
attributed to the Coriolis effect four ways:
1 The deflection is always directed at right
angles to the direction of airflow.
2 The deflection only affects wind direction
not wind speed.
3 The deflection is affected by wind speed
- the stronger the wind, the greater the
4 The deflection is strongest at the poles
and weakens near the equator, becoming
nonexistent at the equator.
Friction affects the wind only within a few
kilometers of the Earths surface.
Friction acts to slow air movement, which
changes wind direction.

Above the friction layer, the pressure gradient

causes air to move across the isobars.
The pressure gradient and the Coriolis effect
balance in high altitude air, and wind
generally flows parallel to the isobars.
This produces the jet streams.
Jet streams are high altitude, fast
moving rivers of air between 120 to
240 kilometers per hour in a west to
east direction.
Close to the ground the shape of the
terrain determines the angle of flow
across isobars.
Over the ocean, friction is low and
the angle of flow is low.
Over rough terrain, where friction is
higher, winds move slower and
move across isobars at greater
Slower winds caused by friction
decreases the Coriolis effect.
Pressure Centers and
Pressure differences are basic to
making observations about weather.
For example, low pressure is usually
associated with cloudy conditions
and precipitation.
High pressure generally means clear
skies and good weather.
Highs and Lows
Lows - are cyclones (centers of low pressure)
Highs - are anticyclones (centers of high

Lows pressure decreases from the outer

isobars to the inner isobars.
Anticyclones pressure values of the isobars
increase from the outside to the center
Cyclonic and Anticyclonic
When the pressure gradient and the
Coriolis effect are applied to pressure
centers in the Northern Hemisphere, winds
blow counter-clockwise around a low.
Around a high, they blow clockwise.
In either hemisphere, friction causes the
net flow of air inward around a cyclone
and a net flow of air outward around an
Cyclonic Winds
Weather and Air Pressure
Rising air is associated with cloud
formation and precipitation, whereas
sinking air produces clear skies.
A surface low-pressure system where
air is spiraling inward causes the area
occupied by the air mass to shrink.
This process is called horizontal
When air converges horizontally it must
increase in height to allow for the
decreased area it occupies.
This produces a taller heavier column of air.
A surface low can exist only as long as the
column of air above it exerts less pressure
than does the air surrounding it.
In order for a surface low to exist for very
long, converging air at the surface must be
balanced by outflows aloft.
Surface convergence around a cyclone
causes a net upward movement.
Rising air is often associated with cloud
formation and precipitation.
Lows are associated with unstable air
and stormy weather.

So what happens around an anticyclone

or high-pressure area?
Weather Forecasting
Low pressure areas can produce
bad weather during any season of
the year.
Because surface conditions are
linked to the conditions of the air
above, it is important to
understand total atmospheric
Global Winds
The underlying cause of winds is the
unequal heating of Earths surface.
The tropics receive more solar radiation then
it radiates back into space.
The poles radiate more energy back into
space than it receives.
The atmosphere balances these differences
by acting as a giant heat-transfer system.
This system moves warm air toward high
latitudes and cool air toward the poles.
Non-Rotating Earth Model
If the Earth did not rotate.

Air at the equator would rise until it

reached the tropopause, which would
deflect this air toward the poles
where it would spread in all directions
until it reached the equator where it
would begin to rise again.
Rotating Earth Model
Since the Earth rotates, the two-
cell circulation system is broken
into smaller cells.
Three pairs of cells would carry on
the task of redistributing heat on
Near the equator, rising air produces
a pressure zone known as the
equatorial low which is an area
characterized by an abundant
amount of precipitation.
As this air reaches 230 degrees
north or south of the equator, it
sinks back toward the surface.
This sinking air and its associated heating due
to compression produce hot, arid conditions.
The center of this zone is the subtropical
high. This high encircles the globe at about
30 latitude.
The deserts of Arabia, Australia, and the
Sahara in North Africa exist because of the
stable conditions associated with
subtropical highs.
At the surface, airflow moves outward from
the center of the subtropical high.
Some of the air travels toward the equator
and is deflected by the Coriolis effect
producing the Tradewinds.
Tradewinds are two belts of winds that blow
almost constantly from easterly directions.
The Tradewinds are located between the
subtropical highs and the equator.
The remainder of the air travels
toward the poles and is deflected,
generating the prevailing
westerlies in the middle latitudes.
The westerlies make up the dominant
west-to-east motion of the
atmosphere the atmosphere on the
pole side of the subtropical high.
As the westerlies move toward the poles, they
encounter the cool polar easterlies in the
region of the subpolar low.
The polar easterlies are winds that blow from the
polar high toward the subpolar low.
These winds are not constant. In the polar
region, cold polar air sinks and spreads toward
the equator.
The interaction of these warm and cold air
masses produces the stormy belt known as the
polar front.
Global Wind Belts
A series of wind
belts circles Earth.
Between the wind
belts are calm
areas where air is
rising or falling.
Four pressure zones dominate this global
Subtropical and polar highs dry sinking
air that flows outward at the surface,
producing prevailing winds.
The low-pressure zones at the equatorial
and subpolar regions are associated with
inward and upward airflow accompanied
by clouds and precipitation.
Influence of Continents
The only truly continuous pressure belt in the
subpolar low in the Southern Hemisphere.
Here the air is uninterrupted by landmasses.
Large landmasses create seasonal
temperature differences that disrupt the
pressure patterns.
Asia becomes cold in the winter when a
seasonal high develops.
This surface high deflects winds off shore.
In summer, landmasses are heated
and develop low-pressure cells,
which permit air to flow onto the
These seasonal changes in wind
direction are known as monsoons.
During the summer, the air
over the continent becomes
much warmer than the water
surface, so the surface air
moves from the water to the
land. The humid air from the
water converges with dry air
from over the continent and
produces precipitation over
the region, over 400 inches at
some locations! During the
winter the flow reverses and the
dominant surface flow moves
from the land to the water.
Regional Wind Systems
Between 30-60 degrees latitude,
migrating cyclones and
anticyclones interrupt the general
west-to-east flow, known as the
In the Northern Hemisphere, these
pressure cells move from west to
east around the globe.
Local Winds
Small-scale winds produced by a
locally generated pressure gradient
are known as local winds.
Local winds are usually caused by
either topographic effects or by
variations in surface composition
land and water in the immediate
Land and Sea Breezes
Summer land surfaces are heated
more intensely than the adjacent body
of water during the daylight hours.
As a result, air above land heats,
expands, and rises, creating an area of
low pressure.
A sea breeze develops because cooler
sea air has higher pressure and moves
toward the low-pressure air on land.
The breeze starts before noon and
increases in intensity till mid to late
afternoon. These breezes tend to
moderate the temperatures in coastal
At night, the reverse occurs.
Example: Chicago experiences lake effect
temperature moderations especially near
the lake.
Valley and Mountain
During daylight hours the air along the
slopes of a mountains are heated more
intensely than air at the same elevation over
the valley floor.
Because the warmer air along the slopes is
less dense, it glides up along the slope
generating a valley breeze.
Cumulus clouds forming over the adjacent
mountain peaks can identify upslope breezes.
During nighttime the reverse effect
occurs generating mountain breezes.
Example: Grand Canyon at night.
Cool air drainage can occur even on
modest slopes.
The coolest air is usually found in the
deepest spots.
As mountain and valley breezes are
usually more modest in the winter.
How Wind is Measured
Two basic wind measurements
1 direction
2 speed

Winds are labeled (named) by the

direction from which they blow.
The instrument used to determine this is a
wind vane.
Spot Question

Toward which direction does a SE

wind blow?
To the NW
Wind Direction

Prevailing wind when the wind

blows consistently more often from
one direction more than any other.

Example: In the U.S., the westerlies

consistently move weather from
west to east across our continent.
Along with this westward flow, cells
of high and low pressure along
with their wind characteristics are
moved along.
As a result wind direction can
change often.
Wind Speed

An anemometer is used to measure

wind speed.
El Nino and La Nina
The cold Peruvian current flows toward the
equator along the coast of Ecuador and Peru.
This flow encourages upwelling of cold
nutrient-filled waters that are primary food
sources for million of fish and anchovies.
During the end of the year, a warm current
that flows southward along the Ecuador and
Peru coast replaces the cold Peruvian
El Nino
At irregular intervals of three to seven years,
these warm counter-currents become
unusually strong and replace normally cold
offshore waters with warm equatorial waters.
These unusually strong warm undercurrents
block the upwelling of colder, nutrient filled
As a result, anchovies starve wrecking the
local fishing industry. At the same time,
usually arid inland areas receive more rainfall
than usual which substantially increases the
yields of cotton and pastures.
El Nino is actually part of the global
circulation affecting the weather at great
distances from Peru and Ecuador.
Example: In 1997 jet streams steering
weather patterns in North America brought
three times the normal precipitation to the
Gulf Coast in Florida.
The mid-latitude jet stream pumped warm
air far north, bring higher than normal
temperatures west of the Rocky Mountains.
La Nina
is the opposite of El Nino.
When surface temperatures in the eastern
Pacific are colder than average, a La Nina
event is triggered that has a distinctive set of
weather patterns.
A typical La Nina winter blows colder than
normal air over the Pacific Northwest and the
northern Great Plains including increased
amounts of precipitation.
At the same time, it warms much of the rest of
the U.S.
La Nina activity can increase
hurricane activity.
The cost of hurricane damage is 20
times greater in La Nina years as
compared to El Nino years.
Global Distribution of