Do you remember yesterday? How windy it was? Whipping gusts reached 60mph; hundreds of people lost power in Queens; 5,000 lost power on Long Island; and 38,000 lost it in New Jersey. Why is the wind the worst thing ever!
I needed a meteorologist to tell me and hopefully make it all better. About five minutes after I sent an email to AccuWeather, meteorologist Dan Pydynowski responded to my request. Pydynowski, who has worked in the business for twelve years, had some helpful answers to my questions concerning wind, and why it’s been the worst ever in New York City recently.
“This time of year tends to be a windy time of year, because we’re in a transition season,” he tells me over the phone yesterday. But in order to understand why the result of this is a lot of wind, you need only recall some high school science.
As days become longer and do their best to get warmer, cold fronts from Canada, especially in early spring, do their best to fight back. This weekend, our more mild air was confronted with one of those. (This is where stuff you learned as a 14-year-old will come in handy.) Cold air is denser than warm air. So wind “will blow from high pressure to low pressure,” kind of like if you have a leak in a tire, Pydynowski explains. In transition seasons like spring, “when you have different air masses going in the atmosphere, it tries to balance itself out,” he says. Wind, basically, is just nature regaining equilibrium while it deals with differences in temperature and pressure.
“It is the atmosphere trying to blow itself out,” he summarizes.
But it was not only wind that plagued this weekend: We were blessed with thunder as well. Pydynowski had answers there, too.
As Canada’s cold air mass arrives, “it acts as a lifting mechanism,” says Pydynowski, causing the milder, moister air in front of it to quickly rise (wind). And when that happens, at a high enough rate, the moisture cools down, condenses, and forms big deep cumulonimbus clouds—the kind that produce thunder. Why?
Well, because of lighting, as you know. Lightning is the result of the difference in charge between a high pressure cloud and the ground. So it strikes down upon us and causes a sonic boom, which we plebes call thunder—and in this case, the crashing variety that turned me into sniveling baby on Sunday morning.
In general, says Pydynowski, summer is the least windy season. Outside of the thunderstorms warm weather months produce, the atmosphere tends to be pretty still; heat follows heat. There are not a lot of pressure systems battling each other out. But winter can be windier, says Pydynowski, because “big arctic highs come down out of Canada,” compared, at least, to the less freezing temperatures around here, “and that gives you a difference in pressure and generates wind.”
Certain regions of the country are also windier than others. Typically, some of the windiest regions are near water (like us). “Terrain is a big driver of climate,” he explains.
So, good news: the end of this wind is in sight. It’s called summer. And even though WNYC told me once again this morning that gusts could reach up to 40mph, Pydynowski says things will be less aggressively windy than they were this weekend. “The difference in pressure gradient will weaken, and so our winds will weaken into today and tonight,” he said yesterday.
If there were ever a time I felt ok about 40mph winds, it’s today I suppose; they will not last forever.