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Chapter # 3: Wind

What is Wind?

Wind may be defined as air in motion. In general the wind motion estimated by an
observer or measured by an anemometer is the wind parallel to the ground.

Except in naval ships, anemometers are rarely used at sea owing to expense and siting
difficulties and because the ships structure complicates the air flow and makes accurate
readings hard to obtain. At sea, observations of wind are therefore normally made by

The Beaufort Scale

The Beaufort Scale forms the basis of wind force estimation at sea. It was originally
introduced in 1808 by Admiral Beaufort, who defined the numbers of the scale in terms of
the effect on wind on a man-of-war in his day. On the scale, each Beaufort number is
allotted an equivalent range of wind speeds as well as an equivalent mean wind speed at
standard height, so that conversion from Beaufort number to wind speed is simple. Wind
direction at sea is also normally estimated from the appearance of the sea- the true
azimuth from which the wind is blowing being that at right angles to the line of sea waves.

**NB**wind direction.
Wind direction is the direction from which the wind is blowing.

Pressure Gradient and Wind.

We have already defined atmospheric pressure as the force exerted by a column of air per
unit area and is measured in millibars using the barometer or the barograph.

Wind is movement of air set up in the atmosphere by the difference in atmospheric

pressure between two localities. These differences in pressure are caused by variations of
temperature in columns of air over different places. The atmosphere is always trying to
achieve a uniform pressure distribution by transfer of air from one region where
accumulated excess air has resulted in a high pressure, to another region where a
deficiency of air has resulted in a low pressure. Winds thus blow along the gradient from
regions of high pressures to regions of low pressures- the pressure gradient.


Fig 3.0 Pressure gradient- different between high and low pressure

Forces that Influence the Wind

The Pressure Gradient Force (P.G.F)

Pressure Gradient is the fall or rise of pressure with distance as shown on a weather
map. If the distance between 2 consecutive isobars is small, the pressure gradient is said
to be high or steep and strong winds are expected to blow. If the distance between 2
consecutive isobars is large, the pressure gradient is small or weak and light winds are
expected. For a given pressure gradient, stronger winds are expected in lower latitudes
than in higher latitudes. On the earth's surface winds always try to blow from an area of
High Pressure towards an area of Low Pressure.

Fig 3.1 Influence of the Pressure Gradient Force


The Coriolis Force (or Geostrophic Force)

Once air has been set in motion by the pressure gradient force (G), it undergoes an
apparent deflection from its path, as seen by an observer on the earth. This apparent
deflection is called the Coriolis force (C), and is a result of the earth's rotation. As air
moves from High to Low pressure in the northern hemisphere, it is deflected to the right by
the Coriolis force. In the southern hemisphere, air moving from high to low pressure is
deflected to the left by the Coriolis force.

Fig 3.2 Influence of the Coriolis Force

The amount of deflection the air makes is directly related to both the speed at which the air
is moving and its latitude. Therefore, slowly blowing winds will be deflected only a small
amount, while stronger winds will be deflected more. Likewise, winds blowing closer to the
poles will be deflected more than winds at the same speed closer to the equator. The
coriolis force is minimum at the equator and increases as latitude increases, becoming
maximum at the poles. The coriolis force acts at right angles to the direction in which the
wind is blowing.

Geostrophic or Resultant Wind:

The Geostrophic or Resultant Wind is wind balanced by the Coriolis and Pressure
Gradient forces. An air parcel initially at rest will move from high pressure to low pressure
because of the Pressure Gradient Force (G). However, as that air parcel begins to move,

it is deflected by the Coriolis Force (C) to the right in the northern hemisphere (to the left
on the southern hemisphere). As the wind gains speed, the deflection increases until the
Coriolis force equals the pressure gradient force. At this point, the wind will be blowing
parallel to the isobars. When this happens, the wind is referred to as the Geostrophic
Wind .

Fig 3.3 Balancing the Forces

So what we really get is a Resultant Wind (R), which is a combination of the Pressure
Gradient Force (G) and the Coriolis Force (C).

Wind Circulation around Pressure Systems

Because of this the following is observed:

(a): Winds blow spirally inwards towards a Low pressure or Cyclone, cyclonically or
anticlockwise in the northern hemisphere, and anticyclonically or clockwise in the
southern hemisphere (figure 3.4).



Fig 3.4 Balance of forces in the low pressure area

(b): Winds blow spirally outwards from a High pressure or Anticyclone. It does so
clockwise or anticyclonically in the northern hemisphere and anticlockwise or
cyclonically in the southern hemisphere.

Fig 3.5 Balance of forces in the High pressure area

The angle of in-draft or angle at which the wind spiral in or out depends on:
The Pressure Gradient Force, Latitude and Friction


The Effect of Friction

The Geostrophic Wind is found to be a good determination to the wind actually

observed on the earths surface at a level of about 600m above the surface i.e. that is
high enough above the earths surface to be unaffected by friction. The surface wind,
however, does not blow precisely along the isobars in any latitude but at an angle to the
isobars to the side of low pressure. It is shown that friction has this effect, with the
actual amount of deviation from the isobars depending not only on the latitude but also
the amount of friction.

Figure 3.6. The effect of friction on surface wind. Near the ground the wind will cross the isobars
and blow towards lower pressures.

Prediction of Wind Speed

The Geostrophic Wind Speed: This is the speed of the Resultant Wind (R) and may
be predicted using a Geostrophic Wind scale provided, drawn to the scale of the
weather map. If a Geostrophic Wind scale, drawn to the scale of the weather map is not
available the table on page 35 of the text may be used to obtain the Geostrophic Wind



Buys Ballots Law named after the Dutch Meteorologist, Cristoph Buys-Ballot (1817-
1890), provides a useful rule that can be used by mariners to identify the location of low
pressure centres, and most importantly assists in modern day navigation.

The law provides general rules of conduct for masters of sail and steam vessels, to
assist them in steering their vessels away from the center and the right front (in the
Northern Hemisphere and left front in the Southern Hemisphere) quadrant of hurricanes
and any other rotating disturbance at sea. Buys Ballots Law is however a fairly general
rule which may be subject to other factors such as the shape of the coastline.


If you face the true wind then the Low pressure area (L) will be 8-12 points or 90 to 135
degrees on your right in the Northern hemisphere and to the left in the Southern

This rule may be applied with confidence only after the atmospheric pressure (adjusted
for temperature, height and index error) has fallen by 10mb or more below normal)

Figure 3.7. Buys Ballots Law in the Northern Hemisphere


Frequently Asked Questions

1. Discuss the forces which influence the creation of wind.

2. What are winds?

3. How does the Pressure Gradient Force affect wind creation?

4. State Buys Ballot's Law.

5. Discuss the forces which create winds, making reference of their characteristics.

6. Describe how the Beaufort Scale can be used to estimate wind speed at sea.

7. What are the sea criteria corresponding to the following on the Beaufort Scale:
a. Gentle Breeze
b. Gale
c. Hurricane

8) Draw clearly labelled diagrams of the balance of forces in the following:

a. Low pressure in the Northern Hemisphere
b. High pressure in the Southern Hemisphere

End of Chapter 3.