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October 18, 2017

Students suffer in winds chill

I’ve been a student at the University of Massachusetts for two and half years now, and I’ve lived here for about a year. I can say with absolute confidence that the single worst thing about UMass is the wind.

It comes down from the north; cold sub-Arctic blasts from Canada, Vermont and New Hampshire; sweeping over farms, bridges, trees and foothills until it reaches its destination – The tall buildings and spires of the University. The campus seems to be built as a playground for the northern winds; all nice, flat and boxy buildings that force it to curve around and pick up speed, then the campus center, the Du Bois Library, the Lederle Graduate Research Center and the Southwest Residential Area, sticking up to create wind tunnels that funnel the aerial beast down to the ground to attack helpless students.

Then there’s the big mass of the Fine Arts Center and its supposed “piano” shape right at the end of the depression holding the campus pond. The wind comes down from over and through the campus center, sweeps over the pond and is forced over the Fine Arts Center. Like an airfoil, the wind is blown over the building and makes a low-pressure pocket in the arcade in front of it. We all like to hope that it’s safe in there, that the wind won’t find us, but we’re being foolish.

The wind whips around from one end of the Fine Arts Center with vengeance. It’s like the velociraptors from Jurassic Park: utterly relentless and unforgiving. It is, I believe, an illustration of Bernoulli’s principle, where a dinosaur becomes more cunning the hungrier it gets.

The wind we suffer from here certainly seems like a predator. It could be fairly warm but you wouldn’t know because of the wind chill. It just swoops down and gnaws at any exposed part of your body. I like walking – considering it makes up the majority of my exercise – but being assaulted by hurricane-force winds puts me off.

Sometimes it seems like those old Arbor Day commercials showing scratchy film of the Dust Bowl. I bet I could make a small cart, hoist a sail and make it down North Pleasant Street. I wouldn’t recommend doing so, but I bet it would work.

Is there anything we can do about the wind, short of going some place warm for the winter?

To find the answer, it is worth investigating what the wind is and where it comes from. According to the National Weather Service, wind is the result of differences in air pressure between two geographic areas. The pressure differences can be caused by atmospheric absorption of solar energy, differences in altitude of the geographic areas, the Earth’s rotation and axial tilt, a slight contribution from the moon’s gravity and the odd catastrophic explosion or two, such as from a volcano, nuclear blast or asteroid impact/atmospheric entry disintegration. I do not believe that the winds we deal with down here are caused by Canadian nuclear testing, but perhaps the CIA should investigate, just to make sure.

Anyways, the most likely reason for the strong winds is that we’re in a valley. We’re not that far above sea level so we’ve got a higher pressure than say, most of Vermont. In the winter, pressure decreases because of cooler temperatures, but all that air is still weighed down by the rest of the atmosphere, so there’s some give-and-take between the competing forces. But another force is involved: the sun. Because of the cooler air temperature, the air is dryer so there are fewer clouds. On days without many clouds, the atmosphere absorbs more solar energy, warming up and increasing air pressure.

The most affected area is going to be one that’s very cold and dry, like eastern Canada and northern New England. The high pressure areas win out and expand, creating the north wind that speeds up as it goes through river valleys because of Bernoulli’s principle.    

I think the solution lies in those Arbor Day commercials: We can plant trees. A nice, dense forest of tall pine trees with some hardwoods thrown in for variety, planted across the northern side of campus, should work wonders when it matures. A shorter term solution would be to build tunnels linking all campus buildings, or at least all academic buildings. They have a similar network at the State University of New York in Albany beneath their main academic quadrangle.

The tunnels will also be useful because we can hide in them when the dinosaurs attack.

Matthew M. Robare is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mrobare@student.umass.edu.

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