Last week’s high winds made my wife Diane and I feel uneasy. In the past, we’ve had a tree fall and total our car and another crash through the roof of our house. High winds blowing usually mean we are in for a storm or a major weather change. When we’re outside, I always worry about getting hit by flying debris. As a child, Diane once had the wind slam a door on a finger, causing a compound fracture.
Invisible and powerful, the wind has long been associated with the divine and spiritual. Wind has always occupied a unique place in American culture. Winds were associated with western expansion in folk songs, such as “They Call The Wind Mariah.” Kansas climatologist Mary Knapp says, “…there are diary accounts of settlers… being driven crazy by the persistent Plains winds.”
Many places are known for their winds. The earliest known reference to the “Windy City” was made in regard to Green Bay, Wisconsin. The name was later applied to Chicago, as an insult, during the city’s competition with Cincinnati for the 1893 Columbian Exposition. Surprisingly, Chicago is not significantly windier than most other U.S. cities. The average wind speed of Chicago is 10.3 mph, New York is 9.3 mph, Indianapolis is 9.6 mph, and Louisville is 8.3 mph.
Wellington, New Zealand, which shares the nickname “Windy City,” has an average wind speed over 13 mph. An article appearing a hundred years ago said, “When a Wellington man’s hat is blown off, he never thinks of running after it. He just waits and collars the next one that comes along.”
The windiest time of the year in Jeffersonville is from October to May, when winds blow an average 7 miles per hour. The windiest day of the year is February 25. The calmest time is from May to October, and the calmest day is July 31. New Albany is only slightly windier.
Karen Emslie, a Scottish writer who lived in the south of Spain, an area where hot winds called the Levante are frequent, says that her friends “…felt irritable and anxious as strong winds approached. Sleeplessness was common on nights preceding a Levante.” She wrote, “sluggishness, headache and low-energy moods were… often the rule.”
In his 1938 short story “Red Wind,” Raymond Chandler wrote, “There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that, every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen.”
American author Joan Didion also described the Santa Ana winds in a 1965 essay: “There is something uneasy in the Los Angeles air this afternoon, some unnatural stillness, some tension… I have neither heard nor read that a Santa Ana is due, but I know it, and almost everyone I have seen today knows it too. We know it because we feel it. The baby frets. The maid sulks. I rekindle a waning argument with the telephone company, then cut my losses and lie down, given over to whatever it is in the air.”
Along with similar winds in other parts of the world, the Santa Anas “devil winds” have been linked with health issues, increased irritability, hyperactivity, crime, suicide and accidents.
Diane and I were in Yellowstone National Park one winter when warm “Chinook” winds came blowing in, melting the ice and snow. This prevented people from taking the snow-cats out to see the winter sites and all the tourists were pretty disappointed.
Similar winds blow throughout the world, including the Foehn winds in Europe, the Sharavin of Israel, the Sirroco of Italy, and the Zonda of the Andes. In the past, the belief in the corrupting effects of the Sirocco was so strong, that courts considered it a mitigating factor when handing down sentences for crimes committed while the wind was blowing. In Israel, when the Sharavin winds are blowing, about 30 percent of the population report problems with migraines, nausea, vomiting, irritability, dim vision, respiratory issues and other symptoms.
Hot winds increase the positive ion concentration in the atmosphere. Some older research suggests that this may be associated with increases in accidents, suicides, crime, depression, irritability, and slower reaction times. It’s thought that positive ions may affect human behavior and emotions by increasing blood levels of the hormone and neurotransmitter serotonin. This theory, however, is yet to be confirmed by additional research.
Usually, there is a sudden drop in temperature and barometric pressure and an increase in wind velocity preceding thunderstorms. A number of studies have found an increase in asthma-related visits to emergency rooms during these times. This increase is now thought to occur because the accompanying wind gusts strip the pollen from foliage and deposit it into the atmosphere, triggering asthma attacks.
Many people also experience sleep problems during weather changes. Sleep apnea, for example, occurs when soft throat tissue blocks the normal flow of air. Atmospheric pressure usually assists in holding these tissues open, so when there is a sudden change in pressure, the tissue relaxes, obstructing the airway and interfering with breathing. When this takes place at night, the individual may suddenly awaken in a panic.
Wind, of course, does have an upside. Who doesn’t enjoy a balmy breeze or watching a kite soar magically into the sky. Wind can also have some real practical value. Recently, we went to Wisconsin along our usual route that takes us through the Fowler, Indiana, region. This is an area featured in a television commercial about sustainable energy. The Fowler Ridge complex boasts a 750 megawatt capacity, making it one of the largest wind farms in the world. Indiana has a total of 1,096 wind turbines, generating 1,897 megawatts of energy. Almost 5 percent of Indiana’s electricity is now generated by wind power.
I suppose if the wind keeps us up at night, the least it can do is keep our electric costs down.
— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.