As the air moves down the leeward side, it becomes warmer and drier. This can cause a number of problems, including wildfires, droughts, and health problems.
The increased temperature and lack of moisture can cause wildfires to spread more quickly and easily. The lack of water can also lead to droughts, which can have a devastating impact on agriculture and the environment. Dry air can also aggravate respiratory problems and other health issues.
We need to find ways to deal with this changing climate. We need to use technology to help us conserve water resources, prevent wildfires, and protect public health. And let’s find out what happens when air becomes warmer and drier as it moves down the leeward side?
To understand what happens to leeward slope air, first grasp what happens to air when it cools and heats. The quantity of water vapor, or moisture, in the air is measured in proportion to how much moisture the air might contain at a certain temperature. Thus, a RH of 40% indicates that the air has 40% of the moisture that it is capable of holding at its present temperature.
When the RH approaches 100 percent, the air has achieved its saturation, or dew, point, and condensation occurs as dew, fog, rain, or other precipitation. Because chilly air cannot contain as much moisture as warm air, as warm air cools, the dew point is reached faster.
Mountains have two sides: windward and leeward. The windward side faces the wind and typically receives warm, moist air, often from an ocean. As wind hits a mountain, it is forced upward and begins to cool. Cool air reaches its dew point more quickly, and the result is rain and snow.
As the air crests the mountain and goes down the leeward slope, however, it has lost much of its moisture on the windward side. The leeward side air also warms as it descends, lowering humidity even more.
An example of this effect is Death Valley National Monument in California. Death Valley is located on the leeward side of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and it is one of the driest and warmest places on Earth.
Cooler air moves up the windward side of mountains, while warmer air moves down the leeward side. As the leeward air descends the hill, it often heats substantially and quickly.
Rapid warming and drying of the air may result in very strong winds known as Chinook or Foehn winds.
They occur when mountain ranges are at right angles to prevailing winds, such as in North America’s Sierra Nevadas or Europe’s Alps. The leeward slope winds may elevate temperatures by up to 1 degree Celsius for every 100 meters of elevation change (5.5 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet).
The Chinook, or “snow eater,” winter winds of Canada bring fast increasing temperatures that swiftly melt snow.
The formation of rain shadows on the leeward side of mountains is another feature of the orographic effect. When the windward side of a mountain is steep, warm air cools more quickly over a shorter distance, resulting in greater windward-side precipitation.
As a result, the leeward-side air is much drier since the saturated air lost moisture faster on the windward side.
This phenomenon may be observed in the eastern United States’ Appalachians. Moist air cools at a standard lapse rate of 6 degrees Celsius every 1,000 meters of height gain (3 degrees Fahrenheit per 1,000 feet).
The wet lapse rate is 40% higher in the Appalachians, hence the western, or leeward, side of the mountains gets substantially less precipitation.
The molecules are moving apart as they heat up and accelerate. As a result, air expands when heated and shrinks when cooled, much like most other things. The air is less dense than the surrounding substance because there is greater space between the molecules, and heated air rises higher.
Cool air rapidly reaches its dew point, resulting in rain and snow. However, by the time the air crests the mountain and descends the leeward slope, it has lost most of its moisture on the windward side. The leeward side air warms as it falls, further reducing humidity.
Most of the moisture in the air has been condensed out by the time it descends the opposite side of an island (or mountain). As the air descends towards sea level, atmospheric pressure rises, causing temperature to rise.
Because there is less atmospheric pressure at higher altitudes, air expands as it climbs. Air cools as it expands. Rain falls and the cloud loses moisture because cool air contains less moisture. It dips in height after passing over the mountain, and the air gets compressed and warmer.
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