Why the wind? Professor Jonathan Moo explains the science behind Spokane’s windstorms 

By Grace Uppendahl

Graphic by Ben Gallaway/ The Whitworthian

The recent windstorm on campus has brought up many memories of past storms, fears about the weather and even some questions. In particular, out of state students who have never experienced windstorms might wonder: Why do windstorms happen here? And why so often? 

Jonathon Moo, a theology and environment studies professor, explains the significance of windstorms here at Whitworth. “A windstorm is a sustained period of strong winds rather than just like a gust you get in a thunderstorm,” Moo says.  

Although Moo doesn’t consider himself a professional in the field, he has done a lot of research on why windstorms happen here.  

Moo explains that wind itself is the Earth dealing with different temperatures. “The uneven heating of the earth means that some places are warmer than other places, and warm air rises, while cold air sinks. Wind is a way of equalizing the pressure differences created by that flowing from areas of high pressure to areas of lower pressure. The greater the difference in pressure – the tighter the gradient – the stronger the wind, and so a really strong low-pressure system like we just had tends to be associated with strong winds,” Moo says.  

Spokane is in a valley, creating a perfect spot for windstorms. Moo says, “The wind is blowing to places of lower pressure to equalize and so you get these really tight bars between the pressure and if you’re in just the right spot… you get those really strong winds.” 

Moo explains that Spokane experiences more windstorms in the fall, winter and spring due to the storms coming in from the Pacific. These storms can be devastating, especially to the trees that provide scenery here at Whitworth. 

Caleb McIllraith, Whitworth’s arborist, lays out the amount of ponderosa pines that have been lost due to windstorms on campus. He says, “We lost 241 trees in 2014 and 2015 alone. These were catastrophic events that permanently changed the landscape. The Loop is a completely different place because of them and will never be the same. In the years since, we have lost around 2-5 each year.” 

Windstorms can bring a lot of fear. Seeing a tree fall is terrifying, but that doesn’t mean we should appreciate them any less. As Jonathon Moo says, “It’s a gift to live among the trees and they come with a small risk.” 

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