Story and photo by Jeb Blossom
Why is this place so damn windy? A question asked by many upon being introduced to Madison. The only “windy city” in the nation is Chicago, but if I am being honest, Madison makes a great contender. Nothing makes me feel more at home than near gale-force winds blasting me in the face on the way to class. But while Chicago’s wind problem is a natural one, due to the city’s proximity to Lake Michigan, Madison’s situation is a little more complicated.
Chicago’s problems lie in the root of it being a grid pattern city (boring) located on one of the largest freshwater bodies in the world. The combination of pressure fronts off the lake and the city’s layout lets wind down streets. The city’s nickname does not solely come from its meteorological conditions, as many historical politicians and figures from the city were called “windbags,” especially during the time of Chicago’s World’s Fair, due to controversy over the city hosting the event. The claim of the “windy city” has also been disputed, with many other cities across the nation facing higher wind speeds on average than Chicago. If it were up to me, Chicago would have a different nickname, probably Liar City, for unjustifiable claiming a moniker they do not deserve.
Madison has a more unconventional layout, resulting from its positioning between lakes Minona and Mendota. The grid does not run symmetrically across most of the city, with each neighborhood’s grid being offset to accommodate the city’s unique geography, leading to an overall lack of a coherent grid pattern. Additionally, agricultural development in central Wisconsin meant that most natural barriers to wind, such as brush and trees, were cleared, giving the wind less obstruction to affront our city. Typically, I would be distressed by this, as it is yet another consequence of human development upon the Earth, but I like it. I tend to dabble in the maritime arts, primarily sailing, and Madison’s lakes provide some of the best and most reliable winds in the state. But it will not always be like this.
The city we reside in is in danger. Danger of losing its wind. Meteorological studies have shown that Madison, as well as Eau Claire and Milwaukee, have faced decreasing average wind speeds since they began being recorded in 1948. This is a problem, but one not just unique to Wisconsin. Researchers have found a link between increased presence of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and an overall “stilling,” or decrease in global wind speeds. Not good. The ramifications of this on the ecosystem could be severe, as wind affects plants immensely, playing a role all the way from growth to reproduction. Each mechanism of nature has its purpose, even moving air. From filling my sails, to driving the Gulfstream that delivers critical nutrients to almost every climate on the planet, it plays an invisible role that is now in jeopardy. Save the wind. Save the plants. Save the Earth. Save yourselves.