Surviving a hurricane

C.H.D. Buys Ballot (1817-1890).

The sky has darkened, the wind is blowing, trees swing from left to right, dogs fly by: the storm is coming! Run! Or not. It’s up to you really, but if you decide to weather the storm I will give you a handy tip that might save your life. This is for all you sailors and coastal dwellers!

Ever heard of Christophorus Henricus Diedericus Buys Ballot? Neither have I. But he has a law that comes in hand during bad weather. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s called Buys Ballot’s law. In the Northern Hemisphere, if a person stands with his back to the wind, the low pressure area will be on his left, while the high pressure area is on his right. This is because wind travels counterclockwise around low pressure areas in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere the low pressure area would be on the right side, while the high pressure area would be on the left.

What the law basically comes down to is that when running away from a storm, you will experience less wind on the left side of the storm front. In Buys Ballot’s law this side is called the Safe Quadrant, while the right side is called the Dangerous Quadrant. Now to be honest, whether you are on the left or right, a hurricane on your tail is never a good thing. If you happen to be on a ship you might have a better chance of survival by steering clear of the storm, but if you are lying on the beach you’re pretty much screwed.


About Quantum Gag

Just someone trying to understand the world around me and sharing it with others.
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4 Responses to Surviving a hurricane

  1. tildeb says:

    I had no idea there was a law attached to this; I’ve always done exactly this – put my back to the wind and pointed to the left, repeated a bit later – to determine how fast or slow a system is moving relative to me to predict the next few hours of weather based on the clouds I know will be coming my way.


    • Quantum Gag says:

      Does your profession require you to keep an eye on the weather? You’ve made me curious now!

      • tildeb says:

        No. It’s just that when you live in different places around the world you find very different indications for upcoming weather – much of it based on local topography forming different kinds of clouds. But this method works in both the northern and southern hemisphere – with the reversal you note – and lets you watch the right clouds. People have always been impressed that I seem to ‘know’ ahead of time what’s on the way yet it is a very simple technique.

  2. Quantum Gag says:

    Ah I see. Yes I think the advance of technology leaves many people indifferent to “knowing” things without getting out a tool that will do everything for them. I wish I could tell what’s coming my way by just looking at the clouds or other signs.

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