How Wind Is Formed For Kids?

What is wind?

Wind is simply air in motion. It is caused by differences in air pressure in the atmosphere. Air moves from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure, creating winds of various speeds. The larger the difference in pressures, the stronger the wind.

Wind originates from the uneven heating of the earth’s surface by the sun. As land and bodies of water absorb and lose heat at different rates, warm air rises and cool air rushes in to take its place. This movement and circulation of air creates wind currents.

Wind flows can occur vertically and horizontally and on different scales, creating local breezes or global wind patterns. Though we can’t see the wind itself, we can observe its power by looking at its effects on trees, flags, clouds, waves, and other objects.

Why does wind blow?

The main cause of wind is differences in air pressure. Air pressure is the weight of air molecules in a given area. Some areas of the atmosphere have higher pressure, while other areas have lower pressure.

Areas of high pressure are produced when air converges and the weight of the air causes the barometric pressure, as measured on a barometer, to be higher than normal. Areas of low pressure occur when air diverges and rises from the Earth’s surface and the barometric pressure is lower than normal.

These areas of high and low pressure are caused by several factors like the sun heating the Earth’s surface unevenly, the rotation of the Earth, and the effects of mountain ranges and bodies of water.

Air naturally flows from areas of higher pressure to areas of lower pressure. This movement of air from high to low pressure creates winds of various speeds and directions.

What makes high and low pressure?

uneven heating causes differences in air pressure and wind

The main reason we have areas of high and low pressure is because of uneven heating of the Earth’s surface. When the sun heats the Earth’s surface, the air above it also warms up. Warm air is lighter and less dense than cool air, so it rises upward. This creates an area of lower pressure below it as the warm air rises. The rising warm air leaves behind an area of low pressure at the Earth’s surface.

As the warm air rises, it cools down. Cooler air is heavier and denser than warm air, so it sinks back down to the Earth’s surface, creating an area of higher pressure. This cool air continues to sink because it’s heavier than the warm air surrounding it. This results in high pressure zones on the Earth.

The rotation of the Earth also affects air pressure due to the Coriolis effect. In the Northern Hemisphere, air flows clockwise around high pressure zones and counter-clockwise around low pressure zones. This movement bends the flow of air, creating the high and low pressure areas that drive winds on our planet.

Major global winds

There are three major wind belts that encircle the globe due to the rotation of the Earth and the difference in temperature between the equator and the poles:

  • Trade winds – These winds blow from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere towards the equator. They occur at latitudes between 30° and the equator.
  • Westerlies – These winds blow from the southwest in the Northern Hemisphere and the northwest in the Southern Hemisphere towards the poles. They occur at mid-latitudes between 30° and 60° latitude in both hemispheres.
  • Polar easterlies – These winds blow from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere towards the poles. They occur at polar latitudes between 60° and the poles in both hemispheres.

These major global wind belts have a significant impact on climate, weather patterns, ocean currents, and transportation/navigation around the world.

Local Winds

Local winds are winds that blow over short distances and are caused by the differences in temperature over land and water. Here are some common local winds:

Sea Breezes

During the day, the land heats up more quickly than the water. The hot air over the land rises, leaving low pressure at the surface. The higher pressure air over the water then flows in to fill the low pressure over the land, creating a cool breeze blowing from the sea to the land. This is called a sea breeze.

Land Breezes

At night, the opposite effect happens. The land cools down more quickly than the water, creating high pressure over the land. The lower pressure air over the water then flows in towards the land, creating a breeze blowing from the land out to sea. This is called a land breeze.

Mountain and Valley Breezes

Similar effects happen with mountains and valleys. During the day, the air on the mountain slopes heat up, rises, and draws in cooler air from the valleys. At night, the slopes cool rapidly, creating high pressure that causes winds to blow down the mountain into the valleys.

Other wind facts

Wind speed refers to how fast the air is moving. It’s often measured using the Beaufort scale, which goes from 0 (calm) to 12 (hurricane). Wind direction indicates where the wind is coming from and is usually described in degrees going clockwise, with north being 0 degrees.

Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow air currents found in the atmosphere. They form at the boundaries between hot and cold air and can reach speeds over 250 mph! Downslope winds occur when air travels down the side of a mountain or hill and compresses, speeding up as it descends.

Wind Energy

One of the most popular uses of wind today is to generate electricity through wind turbines and wind farms. Wind turbines are devices that convert wind energy into electricity using large blades that spin as the wind blows. The spinning blades turn a generator to create electricity.

Multiple wind turbines are often grouped together in wind farms to generate larger amounts of electricity. Wind farms can have hundreds of wind turbines and spread across large areas, often close to mountain passes or open plains where strong steady winds blow.

Wind energy is considered a clean and renewable source of electricity. It does not create air or water pollution like fossil fuel power plants that burn coal, oil or natural gas. Wind is also a renewable resource since the wind will always blow as long as the sun shines.

Wind in nature

Wind plays an important role in shaping weather and climate around the world. As wind blows across the land and ocean surfaces it picks up moisture and heat which influences precipitation patterns and temperatures regionally and globally. The large-scale global winds like the trade winds and westerlies are major drivers of climate and weather.

Wind also causes erosion and transportation of sediments. Strong winds can pick up and carry fine particles like dust and sand, wearing away at rock surfaces over time. This wind erosion helps shape desert landscapes. Wind-blown sediments also get deposited in new locations downwind, building up features like sand dunes.

Ecosystems can be influenced by winds too. Many plants rely on wind to disperse seeds and pollen. Wind direction and strength impacts where pollen and seeds travel and take root. Some organisms like spiders even use winds to disperse by “ballooning” on wind currents.

Fun with wind

On a blustery day, there are lots of fun activities kids can do to take advantage of the wind.

Flying kites is a classic windy day activity. Feel the pull of the kite string as the wind catches the kite and lifts it up into the air. See how high you can make your kite soar!

Wind socks are another fun way to see which way the wind is blowing. Hang a colorful wind sock outside and watch it dance in the breeze.

Pinwheels are simple spinning toys that are powered by the wind. Make your own colorful pinwheel, then head outside and watch it spin!

Try out some wind experiments like blowing up a balloon or flying a paper airplane and changing the shape to see how that impacts how it moves in the wind. Build simple windmills out of paper or cardboard and put them on sticks to see them sway and turn.

On a windy day, get out a ball or frisbee and play outside feeling the wind in your face. Go for a bike ride and feel the wind blow through your hair. The wind brings so many fun opportunities for kids to get active and creative outdoors!

Staying safe in windy conditions

Wind can be dangerous if proper precautions aren’t taken. Gusty winds and storms pose risks that everyone should be aware of.

Thunderstorms and tornadoes are associated with strong winds that can damage property, knock down trees and power lines, and cause injuries. If a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning is issued, seek shelter immediately in a sturdy building or basement. Stay away from windows and exterior doors. Don’t try to outrun a tornado in your car.

High winds can make driving difficult. Maintain a firm grip on the steering wheel and be prepared for sudden gusts that can push your vehicle. When wind advisories are issued, avoid towing trailers or driving high profile vehicles like RVs or semi trucks. Limit unnecessary travel until winds subside.

Flying debris and falling trees/branches are hazards during windstorms. Don’t go outside to secure lawn furniture or other loose objects. If you’re inside, stay away from unprotected windows. Wear shoes and helmet if entering storm damaged areas after winds subside.

Follow guidance from local weather forecasts and emergency management officials. Stay alert for changing conditions and take proper precautions when wind advisories or high wind warnings are issued in your area.

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