Question: What do Gordon Lightfoot and Mark Wahlberg have in common?

Answer: Non-convective High Winds

by Caitlin Douglas

The effects of convective storms – thunderstorms, tornadoes and tropical cyclones – are an all too familiar occurrence in the news.  Cyclones Tasha and Yasi which struck Queensland Australia in December and January are recent examples of these convective storms which are known for their huge economic, environmental and social impacts. In a recent Geography Compass article, Knox et al. (2011) introduce us to non-convective high wind storms which are a lesser known but equally dangerous weather phenomenon.

Despite their relative obscurity, non-convective high wind storms are evident in popular culture. Gordon Lightfoot’s song ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ is based on the November 1975 storm over the Great Lakes which sank a freighter named Edmund Fitzgerald. More recently, the book and subsequent movie ‘The Perfect Storm’, staring Mark Wahlberg, is based on the 1991  Halloween storm off the east coast of North America.

Although non -convective high winds occur over much of the globe – through much of the USA and Canada, Western Europe, South–east Australia, the Black Sea, Mediterranean basin, and the North Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans – they have received little contemporary research attention. The vast majority of these storms are associated with extratropical cyclones but the physical mechanism linking the storms to the cyclones is still under debate. The authors of the Geography Compass article provide a unified review and discussion of the potential factors that cause these storms.

Knox et al. 2011. Non-Convective High Winds Associated with Extratropical Cyclones. Geography Compass, 5(2):63-89.

BBC News articles:  Cyclone Yasi hits Australia’s Queensland coast and Tropical cyclone Tasha causes flooding in Australia.

Gordon Lightfoot’s  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Youtube.

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