Explorit: Wild wind forces

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By Sara Thompson
Special to the Enterprise

I suppose we should start with, what is wind? Wind is simply moving air. But what caused it to move?

When there are changes in atmospheric pressure, whether from differing elevations or changing temperatures, air will move from higher pressures to lower pressures. Sometimes these air movements are gentle, like an afternoon breeze, yet at other times they can be incredible destructive forces, like hurricanes or tornadoes.

There are many different ways to measure wind. I could be as simple as a wind sock, which points in the same direction as wind, and the angle indicates the speed. There are also cup or propeller anemometers, which indicate wind speed by how fast they spin. For larger force winds, there are varying scales depending on where you are and the situations.

The Beaufort Scale originally used sea condition descriptions along with wind speed to determine where a storm was placed on the 13-point scale. Now, the Beaufort Scale has 17 points, ranging from 0, which is calm, to major hurricanes at 17. Terminology and placement on the scale is subject to regional differences, but it still leaves a general sense of size for storms along the seas and oceans.

The United States and Canada both use the Enhanced Fujita Scale to measure tornadoes. This scale ranges from EF0, which is wind speed between 65-85 mph and leaves minor damage, to EF5, which has wind speed above 200 mph and leaves total destruction in its wake.

Not all wind is destructive, however, and can be used for the advantage of many. All over the United States, Canada, Europe and many more are building large wind farms. Traditionally, windmills were used to perform tasks like grinding grain or pumping water. Today, large wind mills are built and angled differently to capture wind from all directions. The spinning blades and turbines help to generate electricity in areas that experience frequent strong winds. Humans have also used wind to help them travel the oceans and seas.

Other species in nature also use wind. Birds use warm air thermals to help them rise with less effort, or to hover briefly to look for prey. Many plant species rely on wind and air movement to spread their seeds or pollen to populate other areas.

If you’re looking to experiment with wind, come by Explorit, where we have several wind tunnels that you can explore with. We have a horizontal wind tunnel that may blow over a structure you built with hurricane force winds; or add feathers to a cutout of a bird to help it control the air around it rather than the wind controlling it.

We also have an aeolean sand table, which shows how wind can affect sand and move it around. Lastly, we have a weather station in our backyard that has a digital display that you can see what the current wind speed is in the park.

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Explorit’s coming events:

* Explorit is still seeking volunteers for Woodland camps.  Must be 14 years or older and provide your own transportation. Apply at http://www.explorit.org/support/volunteer/volunteer-application.

* Check out the new evening teen camp, July 8-12, “The Stars and Our Night Sky” for ages 12-16. Learn about the stars, planets, moons, black holes and other phenomena in the sky. Explore the use of various telescopes and learn to identify stars and planets.

* Visit Explorit’s latest exhibition, Earth Explorations. Explorit’s Exploration Gallery is open to the public every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.

* Become a member at Explorit. For more information or to purchase or renew your membership online visit www.explorit.org/join/membership-levels or call Explorit at 530-756-0191.

— Explorit Science Center is at 3141 Fifth St. For more information call 530-756-0191 or visit http://www.explorit.org, or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

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