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Heather’s Weather Whys: What powers the jet stream?

When it comes to explaining weather patterns, the jet stream gets brought up a lot. But what makes the jet stream so powerful?
Credit: WGRZ

Figuring out the origin of the term “jet stream” doesn’t take much intuition. This ribbon of very fast-moving air resides about 30,000 feet about our heads; the cruising altitude for most commercial airplanes.

But when it comes to the origin of this fast-moving air itself, you need a little bit of science. Despite its high altitude, the processes that produce the jet stream actually begin at Earth’s surface.

Air at the equator is generally much warmer than air at higher latitudes, especially this time of year.

Warm air rises much more easily than cooler air, so air at the equator typically rises more than air at mid and high latitudes. The uneven rising motion throughout the global atmosphere creates a sort of 3-D current.

To see what that looks like, check out this week’s episode.

New episodes of Heather’s Weather Whys are posted to the WGRZ YouTube channel every Wednesday evening. You can also watch on Thursdays at 5:30 on Channel 2 News.

If you have a weather question for Heather to answer, send it to her at heather.waldman@wgrz.com or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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