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It Blows Both Ways - How Wind Affects Climate Change

August 2, 2022

Shifting wind patterns are making extreme weather events more likely.

Herbst Wetter Wind Natur Symbolbild
Image: Patrizia Tilly - Fotolia

This is because the wind, which distributes areas of high and low pressure along the latitude lines of the Earth, is also being influenced by climate change.

Symbolbild Tiefdruckgebiet
Image: Christine König/picture alliance

The wind is the motor for our weather. It brings us both sunshine and rain. And during the winter months, it regularly blows itself up into heavy storms. But throughout the globe, climate change is causing shifts in existing wind systems - with devastating consequences. Atlantic hurricanes, which build up over the tropics and often lay waste to swathes of land on the eastern coast of the US, are becoming more intense and bringing heavier rainfall.

Jetstream Rossby-Wellen
Image: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

Scientists are looking for clues as to the precise causes for the warming in the Arctic, where temperatures are climbing more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. In the northern hemisphere, rising temperatures result in wind systems ‘twisting’ at 10-kilometer altitudes. The Arctic jet stream drives high- and low-pressure areas around the globe. It travels around the planet from west to east at speeds of up to 500 kilometers an hour.

Deutschland Hitze und Trockenheit in Baden-Württemberg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. von Ditfurth

But in recent years, meteorologists have noticed more frequent weaker phases in the jet stream - with fatal consequences for Europe. Droughts like the one experienced in 2018 and flood catastrophes like that of 2021 are both likely to recur.

Researchers on the island of Spitsbergen have already made an alarming discovery. Climate change is altering the wind, and the altered wind is accelerating climate change - a dangerous vicious cycle.

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