Listening to the wind

The east slopes of the Rocky Mountains are places that experience quite a bit of wind. As the jet stream passover the mountains, and surface winds align in direction, the moving air meets the uplift of the mountains and race upwards. Reaching the top, the air tends to continue to rise leaving a low pressure area underneath in the shelter of the mountains. The result is that the air rushes towards that low pressure area and the winds accelerate as they head downslope. The town where I grew up was in a kind of perfect wind corridor with the Yellowstone Valley forming a kind of funnel for the air coming down paradise valley combining with the winds clearing the Bozeman pass.

My home town averages over 200 days each year when the peak wind gust blows at over 30 mph. Each year there are 20 or more days when the wind reaches 60 mph. Record gusts are over 100 mph. When I was growing up my father attempted to maintain a weather station, but had trouble keeping functioning windspeed indicators. The wind blew the vanes off of the anemometers. Later, when cable television came to our town there was a channel on the local television that showed the local weather. When the wind gauge read 0, all of the locals knew that the wind was blowing hard enough to bust the gauge.

My parents operated light airplanes from the local airport. When the wind was gusting over 30 mph, it was dangerous and difficult to taxi the small planes crosswise to the wind. They developed all kinds of techniques to protect the airplanes and maintain their operations. One technique was to simply ease the plane out of the shelter of the building and face the nose into the wind. A Piper Super Cub with the flaps down will fly at just over 42 mph. That means that a wind blowing 45 mph with gusts of 50 is sufficient for the plane to rise off of the ground without the need of a runway. And on windy days the airplane will actually fly while going backwards across the ground. You make a lot more progress flying downwind that into the wind.

At one time there were so may accidents with mobile homes, trailers and other high profile vehicles that it was difficult to get any insurance for moving a mobile home between Columbus and Bozeman. There were a couple of local businesses that depended heavily on salvage contracts to clean up vehicles blown off of the road. We knew which curves to check for blown over trailers.

All of this is to say that I grew up with the wind. The sound of the wind seems natural to me. Wind gusts this morning are around 36 mph. That’s enough to rattle the storm windows on our house. Yes we live in a house with old fashioned storm windows. We have double-glazed casement windows with single pane storm windows on the outside. The storms have sliding panels with screens in the bottoms for summer ventilation. It is an older system, but it works well and provides good insulation for the home. The wind, however, can get between the storms and the regular windows and make them rattle a bit.

Outside the main sound on a windy day is the unique noise of wind in the pine trees. It happens to be a sound that I like very much. It is calming and not bothersome. We don’t get the super high wind speeds here, but we do get our share of wind even with the protection of the hills and the trees which shelter our home quite well.

The wind is a reminder that the earth keeps turning on its axis. It is the rotation of the planet that causes the atmosphere to lag just a little bit behind the planet and the effect is wind. This combines with irregularities in surface shape to create variations in pressure and differences in windspeed. Throw in differences in the amount of water vapor suspended in the air and differences in temperature and you have weather.

Higher winds often signal a change in weather. It doesn’t look like anything dramatic is in store for us this week. Temperatures are going to drop, with highs in the 30’s midweek, rising into the 40’s by the weekend. The extended forecast calls for the possibility of snow next week.

The sound of the wind outside, however, is a reminder that winter is coming. It is also a reminder of how comfortable our home is. The indigenous tribes of the plains developed well-insulated tipis that were very resistant to the wind and were often double-walled for winter protection. They were, however, not completely air tight. If that had been the case there would have been no ventilation for the smoke that was produced by the fire which was the heat source. You can bet that those sleeping in tipis were aware in changes in the wind and temperature.

Early settlers on the plains made homes out of sod dug from the earth. Here in the hills there were plenty of trees for logs for cabins, which were sturdy shelters, though chinking the logs was a challenge and the wind could whistle through any gaps that were left during construction.

By comparison, we have it very comfortable in our well-insulated and well sealed home with a layer of Tyvek air and water barrier between the siding and the sheeting over the walls. Our doors and windows seal tightly. Our thermostats control the temperature.

Still, I am grateful that I remain aware of the weather outside. I am fortunate to be able to go outside every day and sniff the air and feel the wind. I have no desire to live in a place that is so climate controlled that I lose touch with nature. We are a part of this world and we are affected by forces that are much bigger than we. We have tasted enough harsh weather to understand and respect the power of nature.

And the wind rattling the storm windows is music to my ears. It reminds me that I live in a world that is constantly changing and that holds fresh surprises for tomorrow.

Copyright (c) 2016 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!