Air is after me now?
Have you been outside recently? It’s brutal out there.
So what is it?
Simply put, the flow of gases. Gases are a state of matter defined by a large separation between individual molecules, which usually makes them appear colorless. Winds on Earth are concerned with the flow of air. Air, which is made up of many different molecules, flows due to differences in atmospheric pressure. Like all gases, air moves from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. The greater this pressure difference, the stronger the wind.
Why do we get such strong winds here?
The mountains and the canyons. Canyons are essentially big, long holes in a wall of rock and are excellent at funneling wind from one end (the higher pressure side) of the canyon to another, increasing its wind speed. Canyon winds are a type of katabatic wind, where cold and dense air forms up high, like in the mountains, and then flows quickly downward into the valley.
What’s the worst time for these winds?
Early morning. Katabatic winds occur due to the cooling of the Earth overnight. High elevations cool faster, mainly because they start out colder, creating that cold and dense air mass, which flows out through the canyons in the morning. So going for a run in the morning might not be the best idea.
How fast do winds have to be going to cause damage?
Fairly fast. The Beaufort scale relates wind speed to its effects on sea and land. To hit a “high wind warning,” winds have to be going at least 25 mph, which is strong enough to mess up your garbage cans. Salt Lake’s average wind speed from 1996–2006 was only 8.6 mph, reaching a high of 9.8 mph in April and August, which is classified as a “gentle breeze” that keeps leaves rustling.
The strongest wind ever recorded not in a tornado was 253 mph in 1996 in Australia. Interestingly, the tropical cyclone it was associated with caused only $2 million in damages and 10 injuries.
What’s your bias?
I’ve made the mistake of going for those early morning runs, and I can’t say I’ve enjoyed them much.