Winds from approaching Hurricane Sandy turned 1 WTC (previously known as the Freedom Tower) into an æolian harp. (via Doubtful News)
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:
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.
Thanks to Chris Noble for sending this in on Submitterator! It's grand!
Read a previous BoingBoing story about using wind forecasts to improve renewable energy.
Rethinking NIMBY: Why Wind Power Could Lead To New Ways of Defining (and Dealing With) Public Naysaying
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.Read the rest