We have recently moved from the northern end of California’s Central Valley at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains to the southern Oregon Coast. One of the most noticeable differences between these two areas is the weather.
In Redding, we enjoyed a hot Mediterranean climate. Here on the coast, the weather is more moderate with partly cloudy days and windy afternoons the norm. It is the perfect place to dive into a study of Oregon’s coastal winds.
I recently wrote an article for the Handbook of Nature Study monthly newsletter describing ways in which you could undertake a study of wind. If you don’t already subscribe to Barb’s newsletter, I encourage you to do so.
Wind results from pressure gradients, differences in air pressure from one place to another. When high pressure and low-pressure areas come close to each other, air from the high-pressure area will move into the low-pressure area, creating wind. Because of the rotation of Earth, the air will not move directly toward the low-pressure area. Instead, it spirals in, creating a cyclone. A cyclone is any weather system with winds around a low-pressure area. The wind will continue until the pressure between the areas is equalized.
Students often have misconceptions about wind and where it comes from. Before beginning a unit study or lesson on the wind, begin with a discussion to reveal their ideas of wind and its origins.
Oregon Coastal Winds
As Meriwether Lewis observed during his encampment along the coast in the early 1800s, it can get windy on the Oregon Coast. In the winter, storms approach the coast from primarily a westerly direction. In this case, strong southerly winds occur ahead of the storm’s advancing frontal zone, as higher pressure to the south tries to compensate for falling pressures to the north. Once the front passes inland, winds shift to westerly.
The winds from the Land brings us could [sic] and clear weather while those obliquely along either coast or off the Oceans bring us warm damp cloudy and rainy weather. The hardest winds are always from the S.W.
~ Meriwether Lewis, January 31, 1806, at Fort Clatsop
Such an observation is completely true in the winter. However, had Lewis and the other members of the Corps of Discovery experienced a summer along the Oregon coast, they would certainly have experienced other conditions. The prevailing winds shift to northwesterly along the coast throughout the spring and falls off remarkably along the entire coast during the summer months.
High Wind Advisory
Winter is a great time to visit the Oregon coast and watch our magnificent winter storms. There are at least a few fairly nice days in between the stormy squalls and near-gale force winds.
The winter storms are one of the things I like best about living on the coast. Meteorologists have stated that several storms are expected to hit the Northwest coast this week and perhaps through much of December. According to AccuWeather.com,
The storms, which will vary in intensity and location, will hit every one to three days with waves of drenching rain, heavy mountain snow and gusty winds.
Our rain gear is packed and we will head out periodically to measure the strength of the wind with our Kestrel 1000 Pocket Wind Meter. Our plan is to do this several times over the course of the year to get a feel for seasonal changes.
Take it Further
1) Students may be interested in investigating storms, like tornadoes, in which pressure differences between the two areas are very great. This would create an opportunity to talk about safety precautions that should be followed in tornadoes and strong wind storms.
2) A discussion of the Coriolis Effect may also be appropriate. Important to airplane and rocket navigation, the phenomenon of the Coriolis Effect results from the rotation of Earth.
3) When the children were younger, I introduced them to the concepts of air pressure and wind with a couple of simple activities. As I shared in this post, the air in the balloon is pressurized. The air around the balloon has a lower pressure than the air in the balloon. When the balloon is opened, the high-pressure air rushes out to a region of low pressure. This is the same principle that governs wind – though there are some key differences between the model and reality.
4) Wind is an important alternative source of energy. The history of wind machines, modern wind machines, the economics of wind power, and the environmental aspects of wind power can also be explored. Challenge students to build a windmill of their own using Fischertechnik or other building systems. How can you improve the efficiency of their design?
5) Find a poem or musical piece that was inspired by wind or other weather. Better yet, write your own!
Who Has Seen the Wind?
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling.
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
~ Christina G. Rossetti