The Atmosphere
Movement in the Atmosphere
Atmospheric Stability
Localised Winds
Visibility and Fog
Aircraft Icing
Weather Reports and Forecasts
Practice Exam


Wind Direction

Previously we learnt about the gradient wind (the wind that follows curved isobars). However, the wind doesn’t always follow the isobars perfectly and we will learn about many different factors that alter wind direction. First, we need a way of describing any changes to the wind:

Veering and Backing

When wind direction changes it is said to be either backing or veering, depending on the direction of the change.

When the wind swings counter-clockwise it is called backing and when the wind swings clockwise it is called veering.

Surface Friction

Close to the ground, the surface wind is slower because of friction between the wind and the ground. This gives the Pressure Gradient Force more time to influence the wind direction, pulling it slightly across the isobars.

This typically means that the wind at 3000ft will roughly follow the isobars but the surface wind will slow down and back.

Since there are more obstacles over the land than over the sea, the surface friction is stronger and the change in wind velocity is greater over the land.

You might find it easier to remember the saying “the surface wind backs and slacks

The rule of thumb is:
Over the land, the surface wind speed drops by ⅔ and backs by 30°
Over the sea, the surface wind speed drops by ⅓ and backs by 10°


As the air flows over the surface, it has to navigate any obstacles – buildings, trees, hills etc. As the wind flows around obstacles it creates some turbulence. Bigger obstacles and stronger winds will create greater turbulence and can cause wind shear (more on wind shear in the next lesson).

Strong surface winds can cause turbulence and wind shear