A Force To Be Reckoned With
Published May 5, 1996 By JEFFREY WEISS
If winds feel stronger than usual, it's because they are, forecasters say.
Caps spin through the air like Frisbees. Golf balls fly awry. Tree branches crash to earth.
People weary of the weather aren't just blowing hot air: 1996 has had the windiest start in 33 years, weather forecasters say.
"It makes it a little bit more difficult when the wind is 30 miles an hour and you're 90 feet up in a tree," said Steve Houser, general manager of Arborilogical Services.
The normal average wind speed for January through April is about 12 mph. This year, the average was almost 2 mph faster, according to statistics compiled by the National Weather Service in Fort Worth.
The unusually high winds have not abated in May, with many days like Monday's steady winds of 20 to 30 mph and gusts as high as 40 mph.
It's all part of a months-long larger weather pattern that has kept the wind howling through the normally calmer nights and mornings - and kept most of the seasonal rain north of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, forecasters said Monday.
The dry weather and steady winds produce tough conditions for transplanted foliage during the very season home gardeners are hard at work.
Although extra watering will help new plants some, the physical stress of wind alone may keep some garden below par this year, said Steve George, landscape horticulturist for the Texas Agricultural Extension Service in Dallas. Research on tomato plants showed that just a few days of high wind-stunted the growth of young plants, he said.
His suggestion: Mulch. It reduces evaporation from the soil and helps plants in other ways.
The steady, drying winds have increased the danger of grass fires, said Mahlon Hammetter, fire-prevention specialist for the Texas Forest Service.
Last week, his service classified the danger of fire in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as moderate. This week, the risk is high, with much of West Texas classified as extreme. Some firefighters spent last week training for the wind-driven blazes almost certain to break out if the weather doesn't change.
The high wind creates other problems for people. Say your normal job is cleaning windows 20 stories above ground. The crews working for Citywide Building Services had to change plans Monday.
Instead of cleaning the glass tower of Cityplace, they worked the shorter structures of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
Safety problems didn't dictate the shift, said company vice president Lynn Amodeo. Her workers are always in full safety harnesses, breeze or not.
The problem with cleaning tall buildings in high wind is that dirty water is blown onto previously cleaned panes, she said.
"You can still work on a windy day," she said. "Last week we worked on three sides of several buildings."
That leaves the south sides, the direction where the winds have been all but unrelenting for months.
The dry winds in Texas balance the flooding rains in the Midwest, explained Skip Ely, forecaster in charge of the weather service office in Fort Worth.
Far to the east, just off the southeastern U.S. coast, is the center of a huge mound of air - a high-pressure system. Stretching from Illinois to New Mexico are the meteorological equivalents of valleys - low pressure like a river down a mountain. But airflow is affected by the rotation of the Earth. So winds that start out headed west of the Artic high-pressure system take a right turn, producing the hot, dry south breezes whooshing through Dallas.
One additional weather factor is the jet stream - has stayed unusually far north. That position blocks storms that otherwise would wander south and break up the weather pattern.
But the pattern may change for Memorial Day holiday weekend, Ely said. The computer models strongly predict slow-moving rain and the possibility of potentially dangerous thunderstorms, he said.
Mr. Ely said he was more confident about this rain prediction than in forecasts of earlier spring showers.