History Can Be Found in the Weathervane and the Wind
by: Michael O'Brien
Which way the wind blows is a phrase that means many things to many people. Politicians worry about the political wind or the winds of change. An opinion poll can act as a weathervane of public sentiment. Sailors have always been concerned about the wind, from the days of wooded sailing ships to today’s mega freighters. The fortunes of farmers, fishermen and firefighters can all be determined by which way the wind blows. Even the child with a new kite understands that knowing which way the wind blows can mean an afternoon of fun.
In the early days of ocean fishing, sailors relied on the telltale direction of the winds and tide levels to forecast the weather. A weathervane was far more than just decorative. Knowing the direction of the wind could mean the difference between life and death, feast or famine.
Weathervanes have been in use in some form or fashion for thousands of years. The ancient Greek and Romans often used images of the gods in public displays. The Tower of the Wind is said to have been built by the Greeks around forty BCE. A giant weathervane, the tower was built in honor of the god Triton. Ancient cultures all had beliefs about the divine power of the winds.
The humble weathervane has been around in some form for thousands of years, though not always in its current form. Like the weathervane, the wind comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. More decorative than functional, today’s weathervanes are a reflection of centuries of folklore, tradition and symbolism.
Anyone who has lived in the American Northeast knows about the fabled Nor’easter. A Nor’easter is a fierce, wind driven storm that can make the seas roil and blow hard across the Eastern seaboard for days. Fishermen from Maine to Gloucester know all too well the gale force winds that can accompany these powerful storms. The term Nor’easter, thought by some to just a local colloquialism, can be applied to any storm or strong wind that comes from a northeasterly direction.
The term is most closely associated with storm systems that grew in the presence of cold temperatures. This is unlike tropical storms which thrive on warm ocean waters. The classic Nor’easter forms in much the same way as storms in the heart of the country. A cold Arctic air mass collides with the warmer air of the Gulf Stream. Often accompanied by gale and even hurricane force winds, a Nor’easter can wreak havoc along the coastline.
To the trained weather eye, shifts in the wind, however subtle, can portent to future weather patterns. While early versions of wind vanes may have been nothing more than a pennant or strip of cloth, the wind was one of the few ways that the ancient could accurately predict the weather. Well into the Twentieth Century, the wind may have been the only indicator of what Mother Nature had in store. In one the worst natural disasters in American history, the wind gave unmistakable clues to the future, but few people could read the signs.
Known as the Great Storm, a hurricane slammed into the Gulf coast of Texas at Galveston in Nineteen Hundred. Over six thousand people lost their lives and the entire area was devastated. One indication of the impending tragedy was a rise in wind speed. The wind, estimated at the height of the storm to be around one hundred forty miles per hour, helped to push a wall of water fifteen feet high across the city.
Weathervanes and wind vanes still play an important part in predicting the weather while adding a distinctive look to your home. Sometimes you really do need a weathervane to know which way the wind blows.
About the Author
Michael O'Brien si Staff Writer for Weathervane Sale.com