A topic that will have 
you going in circles

“Blessed are they who go in circles for they shall be known as big wheels.”

I don’t know who said that. It wasn’t me. In fact, it’s not even true because I have been going in circles most of my life and I am more of a rectangle because my inseam is shorter than my waist size. At least, that’s what my wife says. I started off in no direction when I was young and, lacking sufficient adult supervision, I just kept going. It wasn’t my parents’ fault. Mom was sick, and Dad tried. He always told me, “Get an education, son!” He never told me how much, so I just kept going. They meant well.

One of my sons now lives in Florida. We spent a lot of time last week watching the storm unfold and worrying. Finally, he called. They were watching the football game. Well, that was that. I went back to “All Quiet on the Western Front” for the rest of the evening. Not wasting more worry energy on him.

But I did start to wonder why things like hurricanes go in circles. “The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits.” (Ecclesiastes 1:6) Why doesn’t the wind just blow straight?

Ironically, the hot, dry, north African desert, on the other side of this circular planet, is part of the cause. The hot dry air overlaying it tends to flow from east to west. I don’t know if this east-to-west motion is caused by the continually heated conflicts on the east side of the Sahara. 

Anyway, in late summer, when the ocean is the warmest, this warm, dry air flowing eastward meets warm, moist air rising from the Atlantic Ocean. As the two winds meet, water condenses into clouds, forming thunderstorms. 

When the moisture condenses in the thunderstorm it reduces the pressure on the air below. This reduced pressure then sucks up even more moisture-laden air upward. A circular motion is initiated where cold air sinks at the outer edges of the storm and the warm moist air rises in the center. 

This circular wind is constantly fed by the warm water below as it rises upward to fill the low-pressure space. Interestingly, the faster the winds blow circularly, the lower the pressure becomes in the center and the winds blow ever faster still. It’s like the more I talk the more confused everyone gets. 

My wife thinks this is a whole lot more than anyone wants to know about hurricanes. She’s probably right. It’s hard to know exactly where to get on and where to get off when you’re going in circles. Take my word for it. 

However, I guess watching circular things move can get boring. Even those people living in a hurricane found a football game to watch instead. Maybe that’s just my son. “All Quiet on the Western Front” isn’t exactly a boring book either, although wars seem to come around regularly with about the same effects as hurricanes — or maybe worse. 

It’s ironic, though, that one of the hottest and driest places on Earth causes some of the wettest, naturally destructive forces known on Earth. But then, I guess some of the wettest places on Earth give rise to the driest places by sucking all the water out of the clouds. Hmm, it’s kind of a circle. 

It’s interesting that if you have a compass for drawing circles and a straight edge, you can construct every geometric shape known to man. If you add curves to a straight-line geometric figure you get a wrecked angle, which, by definition, is a waste that is larger than the inseam. 

Isn’t it amazing how dangerous a little hot, dry air can be in the right circumstances? If I were somewhere on the coast writing this column, it would probably be banned.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor emeritus of biological sciences at Colorado Mesa University.


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