Occasional squalls of sudden and strong winds can create havoc anywhere and anytime

Winds of Change

By —— Bio and Archives--June 10, 2018

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Winds of Change
In Grimm brothers’ world-famous mythical story about “Hänsel and Gretel” in the forest, their answer to the witch’s question about the strange sound she heard, was “Der Wind, der Wind, das himmlische Kind” (the wind, the wind, the heavenly child).

The story of Hänsel and Gretel is a fairy tale about famine, destitute parents, being lost in the woods, being lured by false promises, and survival through intelligence and cooperation.

The children’s parents were intent on abandoning them deep in the forest after recognizing that they could no longer take care of them. Indeed, there are numerous historical records of terrible famines, all over the world.


Famines and Winds

The interplay of famines and winds may not be very obvious but they do exist. The most important aspect of that is the degree of saturation with water vapour of the wind.

When I was studying chemistry, decades ago, we also had mandatory lectures and exams in “technical chemistry”, meaning the processes and principle control mechanisms to run large-scale chemical manufacturing systems. The rumor was that the professor liked to ask a simple question” “How long do you dry a material?” The answer he wanted to hear was NOT “until it is dry” but rather “until your drying agent is saturated.”

Of course, he was absolutely right. Whether your material that is to be dried is nearly dry or wet as a soaked sponge makes no difference at that point in the process. If your, say air-stream, is saturated with moisture, you can continue to dry your wet material until the cows come home, without any effect. Once the air is saturated, there is no more drying effect to be had. Folks who study famines ought to understand that.

Of course, not all famines are caused by lack of moisture in the prevailing winds; there are many additional causes. Still, the humidity and water vapor content of winds is a major determinant of crop failures or bumper crops. As with so many things in nature, periods of excess can be alternating with periods of lack, without advance warning or any explanation.

Winds of Nature

As you can see from the example above, the drying effect of winds really depends on the ability of air to accept more water vapor. The ratio (gradient) of the water vapor pressure between the water (or land) surface and in the air is critical. Perhaps surprisingly to many people, that gradient is generally much higher in dry winter air than in more humid summer air. As a consequence, the rate of evaporation from a water surface is mostly lower in summer than in winter. Very simply, the low humidity of dry winter air is the driving force, i.e. the difference in vapor pressure between the water molecules on the lake or land surface and in the air. The higher that gradient (difference) is the higher is the rate of evaporation.

Don’t think that this effect is of no consequence. For example the North American Great lakes Huron/Michigan (at the same water level because of a wide connection at the Strait of Mackinac), together having a surface of nearly 115,000 km^2, can easily drop by 0.5 m in the winter months (say November to February). That’s not because of a suddenly increased outflow via the Detroit River but strictly due to massive evaporation from dry northern winds. To give you an idea of the magnitude of water involved, one half meter (a bit less than 2 ft.) difference in water level for this surface, equates to 0.5 [m] x 115,000 (km^2) x 10^6 [m^2/km^2] = 55,000 x 10^6 [m^3] = 55 cubic kilometers of water, clearly, a helluva lot of bath tubs filled to the brim. 

Occasional squalls of sudden and strong winds can create havoc anywhere and anytime, I’ve experienced such myself: from a dead calm to five minutes of horizontally driving rain only to be followed a by more sunshine, blue sky and another dead calm a few minutes later. You wonder whether you were dreaming.


Winds of 1812

Such squalls are bad enough during daylight hours but even more dangerous at night time. There are two well-known examples on the bottom of Lake Ontario: the Hamilton and the Scourge, two merchant schooners that were pressed into service for the U.S. Navy during the War of 1812. They got caught in a sudden night-time squall on Lake Ontario and went down with all hands on board. The ships’ hulls were discovered several decades ago.

Apropos, about the War of 1812. It was between the British (trying to maintain and regain control) and the U.S. (independence-minded) forces. Much of the action took place on and around Lake Ontario. In the end, its biggest tributary, its Niagara River became part of the boundary between the U.S. and what later became Canada.

Winds of 2018

As the sun keeps shining and the earth rotating, the winds never stop. The temperature gradient between areas warming and those that are cooling create pressure differences that cause the air to move from higher pressure zones to those with lower pressure in order to equalize. Somehow though, good ol’ Mother Nature can never keep up fast enough to have just a gentle breeze. Instead, she serves tornados, hurricanes, typhoons, blizzards and associated downpours of liquid and solid precipitation.

Parallel to all such natural changes also the political landscapes are in regular flux. The recent rout of the long-time governing (majority) party in the legislature of Ontario is a prime example; it even lost its official “party status.”

On the world scene, winds are causing changes too.

What will be the outcome of current political pressure gradients?

Perhaps the story of Hänsel and Gretel can provide some guidance.


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Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts Convenient Myths

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