9-13 October 2017

This is Break Week One for the Fall 2017 offering of this course. This Weekly Climate News contains new information items and historical data, but the Concept of the Week is repeated from Week 6.






This Concept of the Week is repeated from last week.

Concept of the Week: Tropospheric westerly winds, north and south

The theoretical existence of upper tropospheric jet stream winds was not confirmed until being encountered by World War II bomber pilots when heading west into strong headwinds at altitudes of approximately 30,000 feet (10,000 m). Wind speeds sometimes exceeded 170 mph causing their relatively slow, heavily laden aircraft to almost stand still. Subsequently, westerly jet stream winds were found to encircle the planet in midlatitudes of both hemispheres above regions of strong temperature contrasts.

The explanation for these winds involves atmospheric mass distributions and forces on a rotating planet. Air in tropical latitudes is warmed, rises and then flows poleward, both north and south. On a rotating planet, moving air is deflected by the Coriolis effect, to the right in the Northern Hemisphere (and left in the Southern). The greater the temperature differences between warm lower and cold higher latitudes, the stronger the air motions and the faster the jet streams. The vertical temperature patterns result in the highest wind speeds near the top of the troposphere.

So Northern Hemisphere air headed northward, deflected to the right ends up headed east, a "westerly wind." In the Southern Hemisphere, southward moving air, deflected left will also go east, as a westerly wind. These "rivers" of strong upper-level winds steer surface weather systems as they move generally eastward across midlatitudes. They also provide boosts for jet aircraft headed eastward with them, but need to be avoided for going west! Of course, the full story is complex as land (especially mountains) and water surfaces interact with the heating of the air and eddies form in the turbulent flows, so jet streams wander. And with them go the storms and the weather patterns that form our short-term climate.

Historical Events:

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Prepared by Edward J. Hopkins, Ph.D., email hopkins@aos.wisc.edu
© Copyright, 2017, The American Meteorological Society.