Wind and Jet Streams 7&8



  • Wind causality
  • Unequal heating of the earth’s surface causes temperature imbalances
  • Differences in temperature cause differences in pressure
  • Since the universe is all about equilibrium, those differences in pressure cause the flow
  • Flow is always from high pressure to low pressure
  • The bigger the pressure differential, the faster the winds
  • F=ma (Newton’s second law)
  • There are 4 main forces behind wind flow
  • Pressure gradient force
  • Coriolis force
  • Centripetal force
  • Friction


  • A really good illustration of the temp/pressure/wind example is the convection model
  • Warm air rises
  • Cold air sinks
  • With convection, warm air rises cools then sinks
  • The wind sets up an advection process whereby the cool air is blown along the ground until it is warmed then it rises again and repeats the process.


  • Pressure gradient = difference in pressure/distance
  • A common condition is when a high or a low pressure system sets up a flow pattern
  • This force is at 90° to the isobars
  • The closer the isobars, the stronger the pressure gradient force and the stronger the wind
  • In fact wind speed is directly proportional to PGF


  • This force describes the apparent force due to the rotation of the earth
  • Really not a force by the way, more of an effect
  • All free moving objects such as ocean currents, old artillery projectiles, air molecules and aircraft seem to deflect from a straight line path because the earth rotates under them.
  • This deflection is to the right when viewed in the direction of travel in the northern hemisphere


  • Flow would normally be 90º to isobars except for Coriolis Force
  • Causes a deflection of winds to the right in the Northern Hemisphere
  • To the left in the Southern Hemisphere
  • The deflection turns the winds parallel to the isobars at altitude
  • When viewing wx maps the flow will be roughly parallel to the isobars
  • Near the ground, the deflection depends on surface friction

Apparent Coriolis Force

  • Earth’s rotation transforms straight line motion into curved motion for an outside viewer.
  • The Coriolis force explains this apparent curvature of winds to the right due to the earth’s rotation under the winds.
  • The earth rotates at about 15° longitude an hour.
  • Thus if say a missile were airborne for an hour flying from the north pole toward the equator, it would appear to deflect toward the southwest.

Actual and Observed Paths

  • Latitude effects Coriolis by increasing the angular deviation at the higher latitudes.
  • Since the earth is a sphere, a straight line will only be congruent with the equator.
  • Anywhere north of the equator will have an ever greater degree of divergence from the starting line of latitude.
  • Since the 60° circle is smaller than the 30° circle, a tangent line drawn to it will represent a greater angle.
  • Therefore greater Coriolis angle due to latitude would be present the higher the latitude.


  • Surface friction slows the wind allowing the pressure gradient force to over power Coriolis
  • Over water 10º to the isobars
  • Surface friction is less so it only causes a small decrease in Coriolis causing the flow to be mostly parallel to the isobars
  • Over land 45º to the isobars
  • Surface friction is much greater decreasing Coriolis allowing PGF to turn the flow at a greater angle to the isobars
  • The magnitude varies with the speed of the wind and the latitude
  • As wind speed increases Coriolis increases
  • As latitude nears the poles, Coriolis increases
  • Under a no wind, no course correction scenario your airplane (a Cub @ about 60-70mph) will move 1,500 feet to the right for every 100 miles

Geostrophic winds

  • Geostrophic winds are winds blowing parallel to the contours
  • Geo means earth
  • Strophic means turning
  • As pressure gradient starts to move the air, Coriolis starts working
  • Eventually as wind speed reaches its max Coriolis and PGF equalize and the wind blows straight along the isobars at altitude
  • This is useful for determining wind speed and direction for which there is no means for direct measurement

Meridional and Zonal Flow

  • Wind direction and speed are indicated by lines, barbs, and flags, and appear as an archer’s arrow.
  • Upper level winds that travel a north-south path are meridional, and those traveling a west-east path are zonal.
  • Zonal flow can enhance a flights groundspeed from west to east in the US.
  • Since the gradient force over the northwest is larger in winter, this can lead to greater meridional wind force.

Curved winds (the low)

  • The flow around a Low is counterclockwise or cyclonic
  • At point 1 PGF is moving air towards the center of the low
  • Coriolis force deflects and at point 2 the air is parallel to the isobars
  • If the wind were geostrophic at point 3 it would continue northward along straight line isobars, but that’s not the case because the isobars are curved
  • Since it is moving parallel to curved isobars along a curved path the wind is known as a Gradient wind
  • This is where centripetal force comes into play
  • Centripetal force acts 90° to the Gradient wind keeping it on a curved path

Curved winds (the low)

  • Acceleration occurs when there is both a change in speed or direction (or both)
  • Since the wind is changing direction it has an acceleration force
  • Newton’s law explains that if an object is accelerating there must be a force acting on it (F=ma)
  • In the low’s case there is an imbalance between a greater PGF and Coriolis
  • The resulting imbalance produces centripetal force acting toward the center of the low
  • Centripetal force is effected by velocity and the radius of the path

Curved winds (the low)

  • When winds are light centripetal force is relatively weak
  • In the case of hurricanes and tornadoes this force is very strong and plays a large roll in the destructive forces

Curved winds (the high)

  • The flow around a High is clockwise or anticyclonic
  • The same principle applies to the high except the greater Coriolis force is producing the imbalance
  • Centripetal force still pulls inward as per Newton’s law which causes the Gradient wind to result

Curved winds (the high)

  • Normally we associate bad weather with the low since the air is being pulled inward, upward and forced aloft
  • Normally we associate good weather with the high since the flow is outward, downward and causing descending air
  • However the picture at the right shows some clouds associated with this high

Chapter 8

Global Circulations and Jet Streams


  • Weather books love to show the single-cell model
  • This is an over simplification of the heat engine at work
  • Heat rises at the equator, cools at the poles, sets up an advective wind whereby it flows back to the equator heats and rises then repeats the process


  • But we have an earth that spins, land masses, a tilting axis and ocean currents so that results in a three cell model
  • The three cells have names
  • The Hadley cell
  • The Ferrel cell
  • The Polar cell


  • This 3 cell model sets up some semi-permanent highs and lows
  • At the equator we have a semi-permanent low
  • Horizontal pressure gradients are weak here so winds are light
  • This is referred to as the Doldrums
  • Convective “Hot Towers” form here often
  • Where the northeast trade winds converge with the southwest trade winds is known as the Intertropical Convergence Zone or ITCZ
  • At 30°we have a semi-permanent high
  • This belt is referred to as the Subtropical High
  • Sometimes referred to as the Horse Latitudes
  • Winds are light here so sailing ships were stuck here for days or weeks forcing the sailors to either eat their horses or toss them overboard
  • This is where we find large deserts like the Sahara
  • This is also where the trade winds originate or Westerlies
  • At 60°we again have a semi-permanent low
  • This is where warmer air meets the Polar Front producing the Subpolar Low
  • North of the polar front we have the Polar Easterlies
  • Remember from our discussion on lows and highs
  • Descending air is characteristic of a high pressure area
  • Rising air is a characteristic of a low pressure area


  • Remember Coriolis and Pressure Gradient Force result in the curved flow of the
  • Polar Easterlies
  • Westerlies
  • NE trade winds
  • SE trade winds
  • 10 years of weather in 9 minutes


  • As World War II was approaching its conclusion, the United States introduced the first high-altitude bomber plane called the B-29. It could fly at altitudes well above 20,000 feet.
  • When the B-29s were being put into service from a Pacific island base, two air force meteorologists were assigned the task of producing a wind forecast for aircraft operations at such altitudes.


  • To make their prediction, the meteorologists used primarily surface observations and what is known in meteorology as the “thermal wind” relationship.
  • In plain language, this relationship implies “that if you stand with your back to the wind, and the air is colder to the left and warmer to the right, the wind will get stronger on your back as you ascend in the atmosphere.”
  • Using this relationship, the meteorologists then predicted a 168-knot wind from the west. Their commanding officer could not believe the estimate. However, on the next day, the B-29 pilots reported wind speeds of 170 knots from the west!
  • The jet stream was discovered.


  • Narrow river of wind
  • 50-150 knots
  • 100-400 miles wide
  • 1 mile thick
  • Subtropical jet 33,000 to 43,000
  • Polar Front jet 25,000 to 35,000


  • Stronger in winter than summer
  • Farther south in winter than summer
  • Occurs at breaks in the tropopause
  • Has to be 50 kts or greater to be classified as a Jet Stream


  • The subtropical jet will form between breaks between the Hadley and Ferrel cells
  • The polar jet will form between the Ferrel and Polar cells
  • Meridional and Zonal Flow
  • Wind direction and speed are indicated by lines, barbs, and flags, and appear as an archer’s arrow.
  • Upper level winds that travel a north-south path are meridional, and those traveling a west-east path are zonal.
  • Zonal flow can enhance a flights groundspeed from west to east in the US.
  • Since the gradient force over the northwest is larger in winter, this can lead to greater meridional wind force.


  • The jet blows west to east and occasionally shifting north and south
  • Jet streams follow the boundaries between hot and cold air
  • Since the temp gradient is stronger in the winter, the jet is also stronger


  • Great contrast of temperatures in adjacent air frontal zones
  • Rapid change in temp causes rapid change in pressure
  • Steep pressure gradient intensifies wind speed and causes the Jet
  • Temp difference is greatest in winter between polar and tropical air masses
  • This causes the jet to be more intense in winter than summer


  • Why does the jet blow west to east?
  • The earth’s rotation is responsible for developing the 3 primary cells
  • Recall the difference in rotational velocity along different points of latitude causes this
  • As air moves north it keeps it eastward flow
  • This is know as conservation of angular momentum
  • The Earth below the air, however, moves slower as that air travels toward the poles.
  • The result is that the air moves faster and faster in an easterly direction (relative to the Earth’s surface below) the farther it moves from the equator.
  • The farther the air moves northward the slower the earth’s rotation
  • This causes a shift in the speed of eastward movement of the air causing faster velocity
  • Because of this the jet moves from west to east in both the northern and southern hemispheres


  • As we move northward air moves closer to axis of rotation of the earth
  • Air must move faster east which looks like a wind out of the west to an observer on the ground
  • The best example is an ice skater



  • At 30 and 60 degrees latitude, temp changes are the greatest
  • As the temp difference increases so does the wind speed


  • The actual appearance of the jet is a complex interaction between many variables:
  • Location of high an low pressure systems
  • Warm and cold air masses
  • Seasonal changes
  • They meander around the earth dipping and rising in altitude and latitude
  • They can split, form eddies, disappear and then reappear elsewhere
  • The jet will tend to be located where the strongest surface temp contrast exists


  • Jet streams form along the upper air boundaries of large masses of warm and cold air.
  • Often, the jet stream contains “jet streaks” of wind speeds faster than the surrounding regions.
  • These jet streaks can play a very important role in precipitation and storm formation.
  • Depending on the strength and position of a jet streak, a weak area of low pressure can quickly become a raging monster.
  • Highest velocities in jet streaks have hit 260 kts


  • The curvature in the jet stream and upper-air flow can have significant implications for surface weather.
  • Curvature’s effects are the strongest in a highly amplified, meridional flow pattern with large troughs and ridges.
  • Meridional flow is north – south
  • Zonal flow is east – west
  • As the graphic shows, the anticyclonic curvature in the western USA ridge induces a clockwise circulation while the cyclonic curvature in the east trough tends to favor a counter-clockwise circulation.


  • Meteorologists use the jet position to forecast weather
  • The polar front jet is a critical piece when generating a forecast
  • Changes in it indicate changes in weather
  • Typically north of the polar jet is relatively cold air exists, warmer to the south
  • The polar jet can promote development of storms
  • Storms are most likely to develop under a jet streak
  • The polar jet generally steers storms in the direction of its travel
  • There are usually 2 jet streaks located somewhere over the US at any given time


  • Rising air on the equatorial side can cause cirriform clouds
  • Descending air on the polar side causes them to dissipate


  • The more serious turbulence is found on the polar side of the Jet
  • Rate of decrease of wind speed is greater on polar side
  • Usually associated with an upper level trough
  • The bend caused by the trough is where pressure gradients change over the smallest distance increasing the chance for turbulence (CAT)


  • Cold air colliding with warm air causes shear and presto CAT
  • The worst turbulence is found
  • In winter when temp differential is greatest
  • Where greatest wind velocity is found
  • On the polar side where there is combo of strong shear, curvature in the flow and cold air advection
  • Make no mistake, it is found on the equatorial side as well
  • Located most of the time in an upper trough on the polar side of the jet
  • Cat is found in sharply curved contours of strong lows, troughs and ridges
  • Turbulence is greatest


  • Light  10-15% of the time
  • Moderate  2-3% of the time
  • Severe to Extreme 2/10ths of 1% of the time or 1 in 500 chance


  • Usually climbing or descending will get you out of it
  • Use FSS and/or Flight Watch on 122.00 find out pireps
  • Remember stress is cumulative (Turb + Manev = total stress)
  • Maintain constant attitude, slow to Va, accept variations


  • Apr 4, 1981 DC 10 at 37,000 over central Illinois
  • Dropped 2,000 feet
  • 21 out of 154 injured including
  • Fractured hip
  • Jabbed nose with a fork then landed in the seat in front of him on it


On Friday, 10 January 1964, USAF B-52H (S/N 61-023) took-off from Wichita, Kansas on a structural flight test mission.  The all-Boeing air crew consisted of instructor pilot Charles Fisher, pilot Richard Curry, co-pilot Leo Coors, and navigator James Pittman.  The aircraft was equipped with accelerometers and other sensors to record in-flight loads and stresses.

An 8-hour flight was scheduled on a route that  from Wichita southwest to the Rocky Mountains and back.  The mission called for 10-minutes runs of 280, 350 and 400 KCAS at 500-feet AGL using the low-level mode of the autopilot.  The initial portion of the mission was nominal with only light turbulence encountered.

However, as the aircraft turned north near Wagon Mound, Mexico and headed along a course parallel to the mountains, increasing turbulence and tail loads were encountered.  The B-52H crew then elected to discontinue the low level portion of the flight.  The aircraft was subsequently climbed to 14,300 feet AMSL preparatory to a run at 350 KCAS.

At approximately 345 KCAS, the Stratofortress and its crew experienced an extreme turbulence event that lasted roughly 9 seconds.  In rapid sequence the aircraft pitched-up, yawed to the left, yawed back to the right and then rolled right.  The flight crew desperately fought for control of their mighty behemoth.  But it looked grim.   The order was given to prepare to bailout.

Finally, the big bomber’s motion was arrested using 80% left wheel authority.  However, rudder pedal displacement gave no response.  Control inputs to the elevator produced very poor response as well.  Directional stability was also greatly reduced.  Nevertheless, the crew somehow kept the Stratofortress flying nose-first.

The B-52H crew informed Boeing Wichita of their plight.  A team of Boeing engineering experts was quickly assembled to deal with the emergency.  Meanwhile, a Boeing-bailed F-100C formed-up with the Stratofortress and announced to the crew that most of the aircraft’s vertical tail was missing!  The stricken aircraft’s rear landing was then deployed to add back some directional stability.

With Boeing engineers on the ground working with the B-52H flight crew, additional measures were taken in an effort to get the Stratofortress safely back on the ground.  These measures included a reduction in airspeed, controlling center-of-gravity via fuel transfer, use of differential thrust and selected application of speedbrakes.

Due to high surface winds at Wichita, the B-52H was vectored to Eaker AFB in Blytheville, Arkansas.  A USAF/Boeing KC-135 was dispatched to escort the still-flying B-52H to Eaker and to serve as an airborne control center as both aircraft proceeded to the base.  Amazingly, after flying 6 hours sans a vertical tail, the Stratofortress and her crew landed safely.

Safe recovery of crew and aircraft brought additional benefits.  There were lots of structural flight test data!  It was found that at least one gust in the severe CAT encounter registered at nearly 100 mph.  Not only were B-52 structural requirements revised as a result of this incident, but those of other existing and succeeding aircraft as well.

B-52H (61-023) was repaired and returned to the USAF inventory.  It served long and well for many years after its close brush with catastrophy in January 1964.  The aircraft spent the latter part of its flying career as a member of the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.  The venerable bird was retired from active service in July of 2008.

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