The Windy Month

At least, I think that’s what March is often called? March 2015 has certainly rushed out on a howling gale that’s been bending treetops and playing havoc with stacks of building material on the University of Reading construction site campus. To see how true to life the moniker ‘windy month’ is, I looked up the averages for the nearest official Met Office recording station. At least at RAF Benson, March is in fact only as windy as February, putting it joint second after January. This, of course, only refers to the monthly mean windspeed – a relatively modest 9.5mph sustained.

Perhaps March feels windier because of the greater likelihood of blustery, showery weather. Balance those spells with some fine, calm spring conditions and you have a mean wind that is little different to any other month of the year: August is the calmest month and comes in only a couple of miles an hour lower. It’s the day-on-day, month-on-month, season-on-season variability that most affects our judgement of the weather.

Climate change projections for the UK show a predictably complicated, mixed pattern of windspeed change. On the whole we can expect windier winters and calmer summers, with an overall slight increase or decrease in mean speed depending on region. We are to expect more frequent extreme weather events, storms in other words, with plenty of rain and high winds.

A few storms can perhaps be weathered, but I wonder whether we can also expect an increase in frequency of days like today: not that¬†windy but enough to make you take notice. You don’t see wind mentioned in many assessments of the likely impact of climate change on wildlife – perhaps because it isn’t very important – but I wonder if it might be worth at least a passing thought.

I would imagine, for example, that breezy conditions impact the behaviour of insects. For much of today the wind was gusting well above the maximum flight speed of pretty much anything with six legs, making controlled flight impossible*. That’s a day’s lost foraging or mate-searching, which could spell disaster for a short-lived, just emerged individual of an early spring species. Poor insect flying days are also poor insect catching days: I recall reading a French paper** which showed, from long-term monitoring data, that swallows had poorer breeding success in summers with high average winds.

IMG_0864
Thin pickings for swallows when the wind blows?

I’m just beginning to get my head around this and will probably forget about it again until the next blowy spell. But I would be grateful for any suggestions of further reading or comments on the likely impacts (or lack thereof) of windy weather on wildlife.

*Having said that, uncontrolled flight, if by that we mean being swept up into the air column, could be a useful means of dispersal.

**You’ll have to take my word for this one as I can’t currently locate it!

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