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Desert Diary
Climate/Air Waves


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Living in a sea of air isn't just a poetic statement. Although it goes without saying that there are many differences, there are nevertheless many similarities between the ocean of water and the sea of air. We all know that air has weight, and when we stop to think of it, what are weather systems except huge currents of air. But did you know that we have air waves—no, not the radio kind, but actual waves formed of air? If you live near our small, desert mountains and keep a sharp eye out, you may actually see them.

When moist, moving air hits a mountain, it's forced to rise, which cools it, and moisture that can't be held by the cooler air condenses out to form a cloud. Like a ball hitting a sloping surface, air is flung up higher than the mountain and, in a manner of speaking, bounces in a series of waves. When conditions are just right, the crests of the waves form stationary clouds to the lee of the mountain. Watch for them!
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.