At the southern tip of the Plains, our state has its fair share of windy days. So much so that Oklahoma is one of the 10 windiest states in the country. At the moment we are on average in the windiest month of the year.
So what is our geographic location all about and how is wind actually created?
The earth is in constant equilibrium and so is the air pressure. A state of equilibrium is always sought, whether on a large or small scale.
A small scale would open your soda can and hear the fizz as air rushes out of the can. This is because the pressure inside the can is higher than the pressure outside. A large scale example would be atmospheric pressure and high and low systems moving across the land.
So let’s start there. When it comes to weather systems moving across the country you have high atmospheric pressure and low atmospheric pressure. Generally, at low pressure you have air going up, and at high pressure you have air going down. So what does that mean?
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The sinking air in a high pressure system moves down, but this forces the air at the surface to move up and out toward the area of low pressure, which has air rising at the surface. Again, this is an attempt to achieve balance, constantly filling any void that may be created by air rising or sinking. So, in short, air always flows from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure.
If you have a weak high or low pressure system, the winds around those systems are usually also weak, but of course if you have a strong high pressure system or a strong low pressure system, you can guess – winds will also be much stronger.
The best way to think of it is as a strong cold front moving across the prairie. The unequal balance between the strong temperature gradient in the cold front will cause stronger winds ahead and behind the frontal passage.
This explains why Oklahoma and other Plains states may be seeing stronger winds than other areas of the country. Because of our geographic location in the center of the country, we see a greater impact from these strong systems that pull right along the jet stream, which blends well with our region at this time of year.
Also on a smaller scale than cold fronts is the uneven heating of the ground and water. This causes sea breezes. On the surface, the sun heats the ground or soil faster than the water, so air rises from the hot soil. Warm air spreads outwards and upwards. This cavity is filled with the cooler air above the water.
Cooler air is more compact and dense. Therefore, the cooler air moves towards the warmer land to fill this gap.
In turn, you discover what resembles a mini high and low pressure system, where the high pressure is the water and the low pressure is the land. And as I mentioned earlier, air is always moving from high to low pressure, so an ocean breeze blows from the water onto the land.
So the next time you feel the wind in Oklahoma, you’ll know it’s much more than just a nuisance. It is the earth’s method of stabilizing itself.