I am sure you have noticed what strange weather we have had of late. This winter is turning out to be one of the coldest on record, no matter where you live in the country. And the wind…. I could go on and about the wind. Here in East Central Wyoming it seems to have blown nonstop for weeks. Not just gentle breezes but gale force squalls that whip hair into snarls, blow tumble weeds across miles and miles of open prairie, and flip trucks over on the interstate. Even now as I set here typing, the wind rattles the windows and rushes through the bare limbs of the cottonwood trees. Shrubs and grasses on the rangelands bear the full brunt of the wind, with nothing to break it besides a hillside now and again. Snow drifts into crevices and around fences. Cattle hunker down behind man-made windbreaks and tree rows. The tan-colored antelope can be seen laying in gullies and on east and south-facing hillsides. So why does the wind blow in Wyoming? Especially along the Interstate-25 corridor? It all has to do with the jet stream and the geography.
Wind simply put is the bulk movement of air. Meteorologically there are a few different types of wind, from thunderstorm flows lasting tens of minutes, to local breezes generated by heating of land surfaces and lasting a few hours, to global winds resulting from the difference in absorption of solar energy between the climate zones. Wind is caused by differences in atmospheric pressure. When these exist air moves from the higher to lower pressure area.
Jet streams are fast flowing, relatively narrow air currents found in the atmosphere around 6 miles above the earth’s surface. They form at the boundaries of adjacent air masses with different temperatures, such as the polar region to the north and the warmer air region of the south. Many times these air masses–the polar air mass and the warm air mass collide right over Wyoming causing high winds.
The mountain ranges of this great state create funnels that allow the flow of air from different atmospheric pressure and temperatures to be concentrated in certain areas. The foot hills of Cody, where the Absarokas are to the west and the Big Horns are to the east. Wheatland, where the Snowy Range is to the south and the Laramie range is to the north. And Casper where the Big Horns are to the north and the Granites and Laramie range are to the south. These are not the only places in Wyoming where the wind blows but they can give you an idea of how the mountain ranges of Wyoming make it one of the windiest states in the Nation.
Rattling windows, tipped over high-profile vehicles, wind chill, snow drifts, and tumbleweeds marching across the prairie are just a few of things caused by wind that you can see, feel, and hear in most areas of Wyoming. Those that live, work, and play in this State have come to tolerate if not enjoy the gale force breezes that whip hair into snarls, move pollution and smog out of our small cities, and keep us all walking with a permanent lean. With that I will leave you with a wind haiku.
Tumbleweeds fly by
Sheep hunker behind a tree
Leafless branches sway