# Convection Currents in the Air

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1 LESSON 5 Convection Currents in the Air Hold on to your hat! Whether you are walking along a beach or flying a kite in an open field, a really windy day can make you feel like you are about to be swept off your feet. Breezes occur because of the different rates at which land and water heat and cool. 54 STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS CATHERINE KARNOW/WOODFIN CAMP & ASSOCIATES INTRODUCTION What causes the wind to blow? Mostly, it has to do with the uneven heating of the earth. Breezes occur because land and water heat and cool at different rates. When the sun s energy heats the earth, the temperature of the air above the earth s surface changes. Air, warmed by the surface below it, starts to rise, and cool air moves in to take its place. This circulation of air causes changes in the weather, including the formation of winds. In this lesson, you will connect two of the Convection Tubes you used in Lesson 4. What happens when two masses of air with the same temperature and humidity meet? What happens when air masses of different temperature and humidity conditions meet? After observing the movement of air in the convection model you set up, you will apply what you have learned to two real-world situations. You will analyze how land breezes and sea breezes form and how tornadoes develop in the United States. OBJECTIVES FOR THIS LESSON Set up an investigation that demonstrates what happens to two air masses when they meet. Analyze the movement of two air masses with different temperature and humidity conditions. Devise working definitions for the terms convection current and weather front. Relate the movement of air within the convection model to the formation of land and sea breezes and the development of tornadoes. Explain how winds form.

2 Getting Started Think back to Lesson 4. What did you discover about how the temperature of air affects the way air moves? Discuss this with your class. Look back to the reading selection, Air Masses, on page 49 in Lesson 4. Where do you think air masses with different temperature and humidity conditions are most likely to meet in the United States? MATERIALS FOR LESSON 5 For you 1 copy of Student Sheet 5.1a: When Air Masses Meet 1 copy of Student Sheet 5.1b: Convection on the Earth For your group 1 tote tray 2 Convection Tubes 1 piece of plastic tubing 1 flashlight mL plastic container of hot water (with screwtop lid) mL plastic container of crushed ice (with screw-top lid) 1 candle 1 punk stick 1 small aluminum pan Scissors STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS 55

3 Inquiry 5.1 Investigating the Effects of Colliding Air Masses PROCEDURE Collect one copy of Student Sheet 5.1a: When Air Masses Meet. Read the question at the top of the student sheet: What happens when two of the same and then different air masses meet? You will investigate this question during the inquiry. Look at one set of connected Convection Tubes and the materials for each group. Then look at Table 1 on Student Sheet 5.1a. What are some ways you might set up this equipment to investigate the question in this inquiry? Discuss this with your class. One suggested setup is shown in Figure What will you keep the same in each setup? What will you change during each test? Write down your ideas on Student Sheet 5.1a. What do you think will happen when cold, moist air meets cold, moist air? What do you think will happen when warm moist air meets warm moist air? What will happen when cold moist air meets hot dry air? Discuss your predictions with your group. Record what you think will happen in the Predictions column in Table 1 on your student sheet. 3. On your student sheet, make a list of the materials you will use and the procedures you will follow to test each setup. Be prepared to share your ideas with the class. Candle Crushed ice Figure 5.1 Connected Convection Tubes 56 STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS

6 Why Does the Wind Blow? Upper winds Cool air What causes the wind to blow? Warm air From light breezes to strong gusts, winds are the result of uneven heating of the earth s surfaces. The process begins as the sun warms the earth. As the layer of air above a warmed surface heats, it expands, becomes lighter, and rises. Meteorologists use the word convection to describe the movement of heat through air or water. This movement results from temperature differences. As the warm air rises, it expands and cools. Cold air moves in to replace the rising warm air. The earth warms this layer of incoming cool air and it, too, rises, and then is replaced by another layer of cooler air. This cycle goes on and on. The circulating flow of air resulting from temperature differences is called a convection current. Convection currents can form in liquids, too. Land Breezes and Sea Breezes Land breezes and sea breezes are caused by convection. These breezes occur where large bodies of land and water meet. The different rates at which land and water heat and cool SEA BREEZE Soil Surface winds Snow Uneven heating causes winds. cause these winds. This happens more often in early summer than at other times of the year. During the day, land warms up faster than the water in lakes or oceans does. Warm air rises above the land, forming an area of low pressure. In low-pressure areas, the air is warm and light, which means it is not dense. Cool air over the water moves toward the land and replaces the rising warmed air. This flow of air is called a sea breeze. At night, the land cools faster than the water does, so the air over the land becomes cooler than the air over the water. As the warm air over the water rises, cool air from the land moves toward the water to replace it. The flow of air from land to water is called a land breeze. LAND BREEZE Cool water Warm land Warm water Cool land Sea breezes occur during the day. Land breezes occur at night. STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS 59

7 What Are Monsoons? Monsoons are very powerful land and sea breezes that change direction with the seasons. They occur mostly in southern Asia and are an important part of daily life there. During the summer, the air over the land heats up. As the hot air rises, it is replaced by warm, moist air from the Indian Ocean. The water vapor in the rising air condenses, forms clouds, and produces rain. The heat in the area helps drive the monsoons, bringing long periods of rain to the region. During the summer, people grow rice and other crops that need much moisture. In the winter, the land cools faster than the water does. Cool air over the land sinks and moves out to sea. During this time of year, southern Asia receives little rain. Cycle rickshaws on the streets of Bangladesh during the monsoon season S. NOORANI/WOODFIN CAMP & ASSOCIATES Other factors can cause local winds. One factor is color. You may already know, for example, that dark-colored clothing absorbs heat faster than light-colored clothing does. This happens on the earth, too. Dark soils absorb heat faster than light-green fields do. The air above these surfaces Sun s rays is warmed or cooled accordingly, and local winds result. tropics, very warm. Near the poles, sunlight that reaches the earth's surface has to pass through more atmosphere than at the equator. Because the atmosphere both absorbs and reflects the sun s heat, the poles are not as warm. Global Winds Winds don't just blow locally. They are continually forming around the earth, moving in a particular direction and traveling over long distances. These winds, which form between the equator and the poles, are called global winds. The equator and the poles are not heated evenly. Near the equator, the sun s rays are more intense. (See the illustration.) This makes the areas nearby, called the Sunlight passes through more atmosphere near the poles. 60 STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS

8 Cold air sinks Circling the Globe Global winds are the result of giant convection currents that circulate within the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of the earth. As warm air is heated at the equator, it rises and flows both north and south toward the Warm air poles. If the earth didn t rotate, rises the hot air at the equator would rise to the poles, cool, sink, and flow back to the equator again. (See the illustration, right.) But the earth does rotate, which means that air and water currents on the earth are deflected. Trade winds, westerlies, and easterlies are names of different kinds of global winds that form because of the earth s rotation and Westerlies Trade winds Easterlies Surface winds The earth's rotation and other factors cause convection currents to form on the earth. Winds in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres are mirror images of each other. Cold air sinks Convection current Warm air rises If the earth did not rotate and if its surface were flat and uniform, air would form perfect convection currents. Hot air would rise at the equator, move all the way to the poles, and then sink. the sun s energy. Trade winds flow Convection toward the equator, turning west currents as they go. Westerlies flow from west to east. These winds are called westerlies because they flow from the west. For example, polar westerlies are winds that flow toward the poles, turning east as they go. Easterlies flow from east to west. These winds are called easterlies because they flow from the east. For example, polar easterlies are winds that sink at the poles, spread outward, and turn west as they go. What happens when these global winds meet? Where the westerlies and easterlies meet, weather changes occur. The meeting of the westerlies and easterlies has a major effect on the weather that occurs in North America. STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS 61

9 Jet Stream Strong winds in what is called a jet stream are long, relatively narrow tubes of air in the upper troposphere. Located about 10 km above the ground, the jet streams are only a few hundred kilometers wide, but they sometimes stretch halfway around the earth. Jet stream winds usually travel at about 200 kilometers per hour, but sometimes they can move twice that fast. American pilots during World War II discovered them. Jet streams and their paths vary from day to day and season to season. These powerful winds play a Clouds in the jet stream over the Middle East. Today, the jet streams help high-flying airplanes travel east. Planes going west try to avoid the jet stream. Can you figure out why? large part in moving air masses around the earth. This means that they also play a big part in determining the earth s weather. Forecasters can use the path of a jet stream to predict how weather will move across the country. NASA : 1999 ACCUWEATHER, INC./ACCUWEATHER.COM The jet stream affects where fronts form, and it moves weather in the United States from west to east. 62 STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS

10 WEATHER FRONTS Have you ever heard your local weather forecaster talk about weather fronts? Fronts bring changes in the weather. They occur when air masses of different temperature, pressure, and humidity conditions collide. A weather front forms along this boundary between different air masses. There are several different types of fronts. A cold front is the leading edge of a moving mass of cold air. When a cold air mass pushes a warm air mass ahead of it, the dense, cold air slides under the light, warm air. The warm air gets Cold air Cold front Warm air pushed upward, which causes thunderstorms. If there is a lot of water vapor in the rising warm air, dense clouds form, and rain or snow may fall. If there is little water vapor, only clouds form. Cold fronts frequently move fast and cause abrupt changes in weather, including violent thunderstorms or tornadoes. After a cold front passes, cool, dry air moves in. At a warm front, a moving, warm air mass overrides a cold air mass ahead of it. The warm air is less dense, so it rises above the cold air. If the warm air is dry, scattered clouds form. If the warm air is humid, rain (or light rain or snow in the winter) normally falls along the front. Warm fronts typically move slowly, so rainy weather usually stays around for days. If two air masses move close to one another but neither has enough force to move the other, they both remain fixed in place. The boundary between them is called a stationary front. At Warm air Warm front the point where the warm air and cold air meet, water vapor in the warm air condenses into rain, snow, fog, or clouds. If the stationary front remains in place for a long time, it may bring days of clouds and precipitation. In a more complex frontal system an occluded front both a cold and a cool air mass collide with a warm air mass, which becomes trapped in the center. The warm air mass is lifted upward. It is cut off, or occluded, from the ground. As the warm air cools, its water vapor condenses. Then the weather may bring clouds and rain or snow. Cold air Occluded front Warm air Cold air Cool air When you listen to weather forecasts from now on, pay close attention to what the forecaster says about fronts. Do you notice that one type of front tends to form in your area more than others? What type of weather and cloud cover does each front bring? The appearance of clouds will often tell you a lot about the way air is circulating in each frontal system. STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS 63

11 TROUBLE IN TORNADO ALLEY People who live in Tornado Alley, which includes the Central Plains states of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Missouri, pride themselves on being able to cope with anything. But in May 1999, even they were overwhelmed by the devastating tornadoes that ripped through their area. The tornadoes roared across Oklahoma and Kansas, destroying homes, businesses, schools, and churches, and killing 44 people. One monstrous tornado skipped across the ground for 4 hours. Meteorologists classified it an F-5, the most powerful tornado there is. Its winds were more than 419 kilometers per hour (260 miles per hour). It cut a path about 2 kilometers wide and tore up 100 kilometers of flat countryside. The destruction was massive: entire neighborhoods were transformed into piles of bricks and stones, This neighborhood in Moore, Oklahoma, was in ruins after a tornado flattened many houses and buildings. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS 64 STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS

13 DR. SCOTT NORQUAY/TOM STACK & ASSOCIATES AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS Piles of clothes, toys, and tools on the floor of the Haysville, Kansas, Activity Center, which served as a relief center in May 1999 for tornado victims These waterspouts formed over Lake Winnipeg in Canada. Waterspouts A waterspout is a rotating column of air over a large body of water. Some waterspouts begin as tornadoes and then move over water. These are called tornado waterspouts. They are the most dangerous kind. Other waterspouts form over a large body of warm water. These are called fair-weather waterspouts. They do not start from a thunderstorm, and they are much smaller than tornado waterspouts. Some scientists think this type of waterspout forms when sea breezes meet, especially in the Florida Keys. Many fairweather waterspouts also form over the Great Lakes in the summer. Rebuilding The Next Step After surviving a catastrophic event such as the Oklahoma tornadoes, people turn their attention to rebuilding their lives. The outpouring of supplies and support from neighboring areas heartened people in Kansas and Oklahoma. Food, diapers and other essential supplies, money, and clothing found their way to emergency shelters. Neighbors took to the streets with chain saws and other tools, trying to help each other salvage what they could from the debris. Nonetheless, it will be a long time before the people of Oklahoma and Kansas forget the devastating tornadoes of STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS

14 Staying Safe Where should a person go if a tornado strikes? A storm shelter or basement is the safest place to be, but even in Tornado Alley, many people don t have access to them. Some families find shelter in a closet, while others climb into their bathtubs. Other options are to crouch under a piece of heavy furniture or to go to an inside room with no windows. To help people stay safe in weather emergencies such as tornadoes, relief workers from agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross recommend that people stock their homes with the following supplies: A woman looks out of a storm cellar at an approaching storm in South Dakota. CORBIS/TOM BEAN Flashlights and extra batteries Portable, batteryoperated radio with extra batteries First-aid kit Emergency food and water Essential medicines AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS Using a bridge or highway overpass as shelter from a tornado may not be a good idea. Although overpasses and bridges are solid structures, you are still above ground and can be swept away by the tornado s intense winds. Instead, seek shelter in a ditch or lowlying area below ground level and away from vehicles. STC/MS C ATASTROPHIC E VENTS 67

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