Atmospheric pressure affects people and weather

A group of teenagers walk through Loose Park to play a recreational game of soccer Saturday, April 17. The high pressure in the atmosphere enabled many groups, like this one, to spend the day outside in the 50 degree weather. Photo by Sibel Alpakin

By Sibel Alpakin

Tornado season has begun anew, starting in March and lasting through June, bringing severe weather along for the ride. The 2010 season has not been active yet, but that can quickly change, according to the National Weather Service.  This past winter in Kansas City seemed unusually severe to many with not one, but two blizzards as well as one of the longest stretches of snow cover in recent history. This severe weather, affecting lives, is the product of atmospheric pressure.

‘The changes in [atmospheric] pressure are hard to escape,” Kansas City Kansas Community College science teacher, Professor Ernie May, said.  “There are good things and there are bad things.  Humans are very much affected.’

Atmospheric pressure has a part in all forms of weather, which affects anything and everything people do in their lives.

According to May, the atmospheric pressure affects the weather based off of what type, low pressure or high pressure, is in an area at any particular time. If the pressure is low, the weather typically has dark clouds with cold air resulting in rain and snow showers. If the pressure is high, the weather is generally warm and cloudy.

Atmospheric pressure affects everything in people’s lives, not just weather, May said.   According to May atmospheric pressure is the weight of air on anything on the surface of the earth.  For example, climbing Mount Everest would result in less pressure from the atmosphere and thinner air.   Descending into Death Valley would result in more pressure and thicker air.

‘Basically the atmospheric pressure is a measure, of primarily of the weight of the air over a given point,’ University of Missouri-Kansas City, geology professor Raymond Coveney said. ‘So the easiest way to describe [atmospheric pressure], I think, is by giving some values like the pressure of air at sea level, on average would be about one atmosphere. But the pressure can change depending upon the movement of the air; so it can be a little bit higher or a little bit lower than that and it does change regularly as a result of what it does and moving air masses.’

Blizzards and tornados are created from fights up in the sky. A fight between atmospheric pressures that is, low versus high. Severe weather is the result.

In the course of normal weather patterns the pressure systems are bound to run into each other. When this happens, that is when a strong high and low pressure are close to each other the conflicting air flow creates severe storms. The air heads toward the low pressure, but the earth’s turning does not allow this and pushes the air to the right. The wind as a result ends up flowing around the low pressure area instead of going straight to it. This causes severe wind, which typically then forms into blizzards and tornados, according to Weather Street website.

‘The difference of how machines and people operate depends on where they stand on earth,’ STA science teacher Ms. Mary Montag said.

The weather affects everything. Severe weather can damage and kill. Stormy, cold weather prevents people from venturing outside. Cloudy or sunny, warm weather attracts people outside. Planes cannot fly in very windy and stormy weather. Flowers and trees blossom in warm and sunny weather. All of this is a result directly or indirectly of atmospheric pressure.

If this year’s tornado season proves to be severe, then atmospheric pressure is to blame.

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