May
03

Those Wild Winds of Paradise

Perhaps it has been bugging you, too. For several weeks now, two or three days at a time, strong gusty winds have been reminding us of just why we love Paradise so much. Given the already testy attitudes of some of my favorite homeys, the wind inserting itself into our psyches has put a couple of them just a bit over the edge.

Late last week, we held a very small and properly-socially-distanced impromptu meeting of the Reecer Creek Rod, Gun, Working Dog & Outdoor Think Tank Benevolent Association RCRGWD&OTTBA) outside Bi-Mart. The round robin was surprisingly subdued and a bit sad, as we mused about Corona Virus, safety, and the closed fishing, hunting, hiking or meandering on most of our surrounding public land. The rising frustration of outdoor nuts spilled across the lips of the homeys present.

Atop that frustration of “stay off public ground” was the off and on buffeting wind: stymying efforts to relax and enjoy our own back yards. The combination has been really fraying some folks’ nerves. At one point, Homey John blurted out “What is this *&#?! with the wind? I stepped around a corner into a blast of wind yesterday and suddenly I just wanted to pop someone! What’s that about?”

“Well,” I opined, “short fuses and flaring tempers in wind are most generally associated with hot dry winds, like the Santa Ana winds of Southern California and the Sirocco winds of North Africa, I’m guessing that you are serious need of some peaceful time in a forest or out in the sage-steppe. I know you love those grounds that are closed, but you can still go hike the National Forest… AND the governor will announce some openings soon… You’re almost free!”

Homey Thomas piped in with, “Actually, the wind is already free. I have a growing admiration for it. I want to be more like the wind.” To a scowl and quizzical look, he said, “Look, the wind gets to go wherever it wants right now. It has total freedom. I want to be like the wind!”

I wandered from that confab weighing my responsibilities as resident meteorologist of the RCRGWD&OTTBA and Chair of the Human Response to Weather Subcommittee. Hmmm. If knowledge is power, maybe a brief study of our winds will fortify us and our senses of humor.

Try this. Air is just a light fluid. Like water and other fluids, it seeks “leveling.” Lift a bucket of water from a tub, and the other water flows to the fill in the hole. Same with air.

Warm air may be light enough to create a “low pressure” area. More dense air (from a “high pressure”) may then flow to fill it. Air moves always from high to low pressure, down what is called a “pressure gradient.”

We have three general types of winds in Paradise: cyclonic, mountain‑valley and katabatic. All are responding to one or another pressure gradient.

The vast majority of our winds blow in from the northwest, along our valley’s unique topographic northwest-southeast alignment. Our strongest winds will be associated with a high pressure over the cool water off our northwest coast and a low pressure from warming out in the Columbia Basin (or even in southern Idaho) creating a steep pressure gradient. You already know that we are into our windy season.

Cyclonic winds come with large storm systems moving across the region. The big winds on the coast the last couple winters were cyclonic winds, moving around, and into, the lows at the center of the storms (cyclones).

Mountain-valley winds move up and down the canyons around Paradise, as a result of differential heating and cooling. Warming atop a hill may draw air up (morning valley breeze); cooling or snow up high may increase the density of air until it slides down (evening mountain breeze) into the valley.

Katabatic winds blow downhill. Our most common katabatic wind is the Chinook (though we see less of it than, say, White Swan or Wenatchee). Air moving up the west side of the Cascades may push up against a “lid” of stable air over the crest and be forced down the east side and/or drawn into a sunny and warm area of low pressure off to the southeast. Heated by compression as it flows downhill into Paradise, it becomes relatively drier and drier (thus our “rainshadow”).

Winds here are strongest during the warming season and in afternoon/evening – thermally driven. There certainly are calm periods through the year, although along the higher ridges around us the winds are relatively dependable. As the air rises up onto and over those ridges, it is compressed to varying degrees against that stable upper atmospheric “lid.” That compressed (more dense) air will move a turbine blade more easily than less dense air at a given speed. Thus are fueled the wind turbines around our valley.

Want to see a bigger picture? Find current (and recent) winds at Bowers Field, get online and check out tgftp.nws.noaa.gov/weather/current/KELN.html. For wind and temperature patterns along a very cool interactive I-90 profile between Seattle and Ellensburg, go play at a site which is occasionally down: i90.atmos.washington.edu/roadview/i90.

Celebrate the glorious, if occasionally cursed, winds bringing us spring. Say a prayer for those poor devils who live in calm, dead places and must breathe the same air over and over and over.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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