Which Way Does the Wind Blow?

Discover How the Equator Impacts Global Wind Direction

Stormy Weather To Hit The UK
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Winds (such as the north wind) are named for the direction they blow from. This means that a 'north wind' would blow from the north and a 'west wind' would blow from the west.

Which Way Does the Wind Blow?

While watching a weather forecast, you will hear the meteorologist say something like, "We have a north wind coming in today." This does not mean that the wind is blowing toward the north, but the exact opposite.

The 'north wind' is coming from the north and blowing toward the south.

The same can be said about winds from the other directions:

  • A 'west wind' is coming from the west and blowing toward the east.
  • A 'south wind' is coming from the south and blowing toward the north.
  • An 'east wind' is coming from the east and blowing toward the west.

A cup anemometer or wind vane are used to measure wind speed and indicate direction. These instruments point into the wind so they would point north during a north wind.

Likewise, winds don't have to come directly from the north, south, east, or west. The winds can also come from the northwest or southwest, which means that they blow toward the southeast and northeast respectively.

Does the Wind Ever Blow from the East?

Absolutely, yet it depends on where you live and whether you're talking about global or local winds. The winds on Earth travel in many directions and are dependent on proximity to the equator, the jet streams, and the spin of the Earth (known as the Coriolis force).

If you're in the United States, you might encounter an east wind on rare occasions. This may be on the Atlantic Ocean coastline or when the local winds rotate, often because of rotation in severe storms.

In general, the winds that cross the U.S. come from the west. These are known as the 'prevailing westerlies' and they effect much of the Northern Hemisphere between 30 and 60 degrees north latitude.

There is another set of westerlies in the Southern Hemisphere from 30-60 degrees latitude south. 

  • In the United States and Canada, the winds are typically northwest.
  • In Europe, the winds tend to come from the southwest along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, but from the northwest closer to the Arctic Ocean.

In contrast, locations along the equator are just the opposite and have winds that primarily come from the east. These are called the 'trade winds' or 'tropical easterlies' and begin at around 30 degrees latitude in both the north and south.

Directly along the equator, you will find the 'doldrums.' This is an area of extremely low pressure where the winds are extremely calm. It runs about 5 degrees north and south of the equator.

Once you go beyond 60 degrees latitude in either the north or south, you will once again come across east winds. These are known as the 'polar easterlies.'

Of course, in all locations in the world, local winds that are close to the surface can come from any direction. They do, however, tend to follow the general direction of the global winds.