Stolen: Blowing in the wind |

Stolen: Blowing in the wind

by Dr. Joanne Stolen

We have some major wind incidents here in Summit County – not the tornadoes they get in the plains, but in May when the Rowing Center had its work day, a micro gust of only a few minutes – estimated to be 80 mph – blew one of the unrigged boats being worked on like a missile across the grass, and toppled one of the racks, damaging some of the shells. On a recent morning, we looked out the window at 5 a.m. to see the trees waving and decided against our morning row. Usually it is not windy here in the morning in the spring/summer. The wind usually picks up around 10 a.m., and that is one of the reasons why rowers like the calm of the early morning. The light, delicate rowing shells are hard to manage in the wind. On another recent day, it was pretty windy on the tennis courts after 10 a.m., although mirror calm on Dillon Reservoir before 9:30 a.m. For outdoor tennis, wind makes it harder to judge your toss when you serve, and your ground stroke. Of course, when I was an avid windsurfer, I couldn’t wait for the wind to pick up.

In meteorological terms, winds are named according to their strength, and direction. Short bursts of high speed wind are termed gusts, strong winds of intermediate duration (around one minute) are called squalls. Winds of longer duration have names associated with their average strength, such as breeze, gale, hurricane, typhoon, and tornado. Wind occurs on a range of scales, from thunderstorm flows lasting tens of minutes, to local breezes generated by heating of land surfaces and lasting a few hours, to global winds. They result from the difference in absorption of solar energy between the various climate zones on earth. In areas that have variable terrain, mountain and valley breezes can dominate local winds. Wind is caused by differences in air pressure, and when this difference in pressure exists, the air is accelerated from higher to lower pressure.

Winds can shape landforms. Anyone who has been to the Great Sand Dunes National Monument are usually amazed to see such a large area of sand dunes in the middle of the Colorado mountains. Dust from large deserts can be moved great distances from the source region by the prevailing winds accelerated by rough terrain. We have had several wind storms that have blown desert sands, covering the snow on our mountains and turning them into shades of brown. A wetter climate usually prevails on the windward side of a mountain. Winds disperse seeds from various plants, enabling the survival and dispersal of those plant species, as well as flying insect populations. The little fuzzy “parachutes” on the dandelion seed enables them to spread far and wide using the wind, as is evident in their profusion here in the county. Wind turbines now dot many areas of the country to generate energy. Windmills have been used for centuries to draw water and grind corn and are still commonly seen in farming areas. Horizontal-axle windmills were used in northwestern Europe to grind flour starting in the 1180s, and many Dutch windmills still exist.

Wind was often personified as one or more gods or as an expression of the supernatural in many cultures. One of the Greek wind gods was named Boreas, hence Boreas Pass in Breckenridge!

Breckenridge resident Dr. Joanne Stolen is a former professor of microbiology from Rutgers now teaching classes at CMC. Her scientific interests are in emerging infectious diseases and environmental pollution.

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