Popular weather question: What causes the wind?

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Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”…. well, I’d like to add a third certainty, and that’s the wind. I think I’m in lock-step with most North Dakotans on that one!

So this is how it works… the sun doesn’t heat the earth equally…so there are temperature differences – which causes pressure differences. This is where we get high and low pressure. Wind flows from high to low pressure. This is one way we make a forecast…

We look around the country to see where these pressure differences are. This helps us make a forecast on a daily basis for North Dakota. But there’s another element to these pressure systems…and that’s the wind that flows around them.

With high pressure, wind flows clockwise and the air inside sinks… this promotes mostly sunny skies and dry conditions. Low pressure is the exact opposite of high pressure.. wind flows counterclockwise… with rising air. This promotes stormy conditions and cloudy skies.

Low-pressure systems are what you hear about the most. They disrupt life and can often cost our economy billions. They’re more commonly called snowstorms…. even tornadoes and hurricanes are intense low-pressure systems. In the southern hemisphere – because of the spin of the earth – they flow in the opposite direction but still bring the same weather.

Why is it so windy here in North Dakota? The wind slows with friction, which is not what we have a lot of here in the upper plains. That’s why it’s much windier here than it is in most of the rest of the country.

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