It can be a nice breeze, or a destructive storm, but either way wind is just moving air. And moving air is just moving molecules.
In an explainer for kids that's actually pretty helpful for grown-ups, too, Matt Shipman reminds us that the air around us isn't totally weightless. It weighs something, because molecules all weigh something:
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They don't weigh very much (you couldn't put one on your bathroom scale), but their weight adds up, because there are a LOT of molecules in the air that makes up our atmosphere. All of that air is actually pretty heavy, so the air at the bottom of the atmosphere (like the air just above the ground) is getting pressed on by all of the air above it. That pressure pushes the air molecules at the bottom of the atmosphere a lot closer together than the air molecules at the top of the atmosphere.
And, because the air at the top of the atmosphere is pushing down on the air at the bottom of the atmosphere, the air molecules at the bottom REALLY want to spread out. So if there is an area where the air molecules are under high pressure (with a lot of weight pushing down), the air will spread out into areas that are under lower pressure (with less weight pushing down).
This is what the wind over the United States looked like on March 27th, 5:00 pm Eastern Daylight Time. It's beautiful. And it's even better if you go to the project page, where you can watch real-time wind currents move around the map.
The National Digital Forecast Database is a weather forecasting system that provides open access to weather data collected all over the United States. The National Weather Service has field centers all across the country, that collect information about things like wind speed/direction, precipitation, and barometric pressure. They combine this data with big-picture satellite tracking and algorithms that are based on what we know about how weather patterns work, and that's how you get the kind of daily forecast we rely on to plan our days.
In the process, the National Weather Service generates a lot of data—data that has not, traditionally, been accessible to just anybody. We saw the forecasts, but it wasn't as easy to see the measurements the forecasts were based on. The NDFD changes that. It's a really great example of publicly funded research being made available to the people who help provide the funding.
And when that happens, you get cool projects like this one, where data on wind direction and speed are used to create truly amazing art. The information on current conditions, and predictions for the future, are updated hourly. When you look at the animated version of this map, what you see is the most recent forecast playing out. Read the rest
Before the Lights Go Out is Maggie's new book about how our current energy systems work, and how we'll have to change them in the future. It comes out April 10th and is available for pre-order now. (E-book pre-orders coming soon!) Over the next couple of months, Maggie will be posting some energy-related stories based on things she learned while researching the book. This is one of them.
Steve_Saus submitterated this video that combines 14 years of weather radar images with a soothing piano concerto. It's a neat thing to watch a couple minutes of (though I'm not sure I needed to sit around for all 33 minutes of the video). It also reminded me of something really interesting that I learned about U.S. weather patterns and alternative energy.
Weather data, like the kind visualized here, can be collected, analyzed, and turned into algorithms that show us, in increasingly granular detail, what we can expect the weather to do in a specific part of the United States. Today, you can even break this information down to show what happens in one small part of a state compared to another small part. And that's important. As we increase our reliance on sources of energy that are based on weather patterns, this kind of information will become crucial to not only predicting how much power we can expect to get from a given wind farm, but also in deciding where to build that wind farm in the first place.
Take Texas as an example, which has the most installed wind power capacity of any U.S. Read the rest
True story: A small college in the Midwest wanted to put up a wind turbine on their campus. The school, being on top of a hill in the middle of the prairie, had enough wind to produce upwards of 3/4 of their needed electricity, so the project made good sense. But when it came time to talk to the people living nearby, the school ran into some opposition. In particular, from a farmer who thought the noise and appearance of the wind turbine would lower property values.
The punchline: He was a pig farmer.*
The point here is not that irony is funny. (Although, it totally is.) Instead, this is about the cultural role that farmer represents. NIMBY--Not In My Backyard--is traditionally defined as what happens when people are, generally, in favor of something, but don't want the necessary infrastructure built anywhere they can see it. Bacon is delicious, but you don't want to live next door to a pig farm. Sustainable energy is great, but you don't want a wind turbine mucking up your views.
It's really easy to write off any opposition that gets labeled as NIMBY. After all, infrastructure has to be built somewhere, and everywhere is somebody's backyard. Therefore, NIMBYists are selfish twits who can't see beyond their own nose. But the truth, as per usual, is more complicated. Thanks to wind power projects, and the supposedly NIMBY reactions against them, political and social scientists are learning what we really talk about when we talk about NIMBY. Read the rest