Weather: What's in a Name?

What's in a Name?

In ancient Greece, Boreas was the name of the north wind—a wind that blows out of the north. Notos was a south wind. Zephyros came from the west, and Apeliotes was an east wind. Although the wind is no longer deified, it does receive plenty of local attention, and there are infinite regional names. For example, in the European Alps, the Foehn describes a dry wind that comes down a mountain. A similar wind in the United States is called a chinook. A haboob is a desert wind strong enough to kick up a sandstorm, and a khamsin is an oppressively hot wind that blows across Egypt. A sirocco is a hot, dry south wind that moves along the north coast of Africa from the Sahara. In the Persian Gulf area, a shamal is a hot, dry northwest wind. The mistral is a dry, cold north wind that reaches the Mediterranean coasts of France and Spain. In the United States, there are the famous Santa Ana winds—hot, dry winds that move down through the Santa Ana Pass into southern California. And this is only a partial list.

Weather people don't think of the wind as "the wind," but as isolated patterns of atmospheric motion, or circulation patterns, which are divided into four "scales of motion."


English poet Christina Rossetti once asked, "Who has seen the wind?" Maybe we can't see the wind, but we can certainly feel its impact. The pressure exerted by the wind increases with the square of the wind speed. So the pressure becomes four times greater every time the wind speed doubles. A 100-mph wind is four times as punishing as a 50-mph wind; a 75-mph wind is more than twice as powerful as a 50-mph wind.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Weather © 2002 by Mel Goldstein, Ph.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.