Gale warning

July 14th, 2016 Sections: News

Screenshot_2016-07-12-15-31-12I got another SMS message on my mobile phone from the Ministry of Emergency Situations the other day.

It wasn’t addressed specifically to me … and, no … it wasn’t a secret message in code … it was a public broadcast giving a warning about severe weather conditions that had been forecast.

The Ministry is responsible for the

This particular message caught my attention because, unlike the ones that I used to get on my old mobile phone, this one wasn’t in Cyrillic but was in Russian transcribed into the Latin alphabet.  Basically it said:

14th July, during the day and through the night into the 15th July, 2016, strong winds of 18-23 meters per second are expected in various regions of the Kyrgyz Republic.  Be Careful! For further information telephone 112 or 110.

The other oddity that struck me was that it was basically an old fashioned Gale Warning.

I say ‘old fashioned’ because it reminded me of the phrase, “… and here is a Gale Warning from the Meteorological Office …” that I used to hear on the radio back in my youth.  It was part of the regular weather forecasting service … and was aimed at shipping in the waters around Britain, for whom weather conditions were of vital concern … and could be a matter of life and death.

Tony Blackburn, a Radio disc jockey, once got into hot water for cracking a joke – an awful pun (play on words) which was a part trademark, his regular routine – which went:  “… and here is a Gale Warning: Gail Look Out!”

The reason he got into trouble was that, (or so the criticism went), the Gale Warning was not a joking matter … it could well be a matter of life and death … not only might sailors loose radio contact after hearing the first words … and then loose valuable time and effort in trying to ascertain if the severe weather was going to affect them and they needed to take precautions … but by making light of something essentially serious, the joke lowered the threshold of trust and faith in the service, undermining its effectiveness …

Although I understood the point – and still do – I can’t say that I was that impressed with the argument.

Anyway, a gale warning differed from other weather forecasts in that, although it may also refer accompanying weather conditions, it was specifically about wind, speed and direction.

Wind speed was not usually quoted in units of speed such as mph, (miles per hour) or mps, (meters per second), which is fairly precise and objective … but according to the Beaufort Scale, devised by a Royal Navy officer in the British Admiralty to describe how an wind was experienced and the impressions it created for sailors on the open sea … it was later adapted so that it could be applied on land as well.

Beaufort developed a 13 point scale, (from 0 to 12 … which, incidentally, some people tried to extend to 17 points … but that never never really took off), ranging from 0 – calm, to 12 – Hurricane.  Although the gradations weren’t tied to specific wind speeds, they was some correlation – as illustrated in this graphic, (which I found on pinterest).



The graphic doesn’t give wind speeds in meters per second … but 18 m/s is just over 40 mph and 23 m/s is the equivalent of just almost 52 mph … making the expected winds today and tonight equivalent to Gale Force 8 and Gale Force 9 winds … which is pretty powerful … certainly enough to worry a sailor and for landlubbers like me, to cause trees to loose branches and possibly cause structural damage to buildings.

As it happens, although we don’t normally suffer from strong winds, we have recently experienced several bouts of storm winds and gusts that have been enough to bring down trees, blow roofs off building and the like …

In some respects our mountains act as a barrier, deflecting the strong winds which blow unhindered across the Central Asian steppes … but they can also create other problems … creating eddies and funneling the winds at great speeds over the high mountain passes.

There are several places where this phenomenon is quite noticeable … but the most prominent example is a pass that is not actually that high – at Balykchy, at the Western end of Lake Issyk Kul, as the road passes from the Issyk Kul Basin and through Boom Gorge to join the Chui Valley.  People often stop at one of the numerous cafes that are scattered throughout the gorge, and experience the bitter cold of the strong winds …

Indeed, Like Chicago and Wellington, Balykchy is sometimes referred to as Kyrgyzstan’s own Windy City.

The winds are so strong that it has often been suggested that it would be an ideal site for establishing a wind farm … In fact, there have recently been a number of stories in the press about the possibility of exploiting this characteristic by creating wind farms and thus providing the country with a source of renewable energy … which is quite interesting because, only a few years ago, the suggestion was discounted by the relevant ministries, as not being practical … or (for a variety of reasons) viable.

… But that’s probably a theme for another postcard in the near future.


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