Winds, Tides, and Weather


Bill Trandum

Bill Trandum

What would happen to the Key Peninsula if all of a sudden the Earth stopped spinning or even just slowed down?

The centrifugal force of the spinning of the Earth causes the seas to be much deeper at the equator than at the poles. The result is that the Earth is not a perfect sphere; it's flattened at the poles and fatter at the equator.

If it stopped spinning, the seas would migrate north and south, covering the poles with water, along with much of northern Canada and Siberia. Meanwhile islands would pop up near the equator, where the ocean level would drop by about 6 miles. Puget Sound would very likely empty completely and not fill up again. The Key Peninsula would be a sort of mountain, about 20 miles long perched between the bottoms of Carr and Case inlets.

How about weathers in that scenario?

At the equator, the Earth spins at about 1,037 miles per hour. It would be somewhat less here, maybe only 900 miles per hour. The air mass would not stop moving, so we would experience a 900-1,100 mph windstorm. That would absolutely knock everything flat, including our homes and our Key Pen skyscrapers, including the Longbranch Improvement Club and the KP Civic Center. The population on the Key Peninsula might very well end up in the Cascade Mountains. Me, I’m hoping for Crystal Mountain, where my family enjoyed years of skiing fun even though all the snow would have been blown away.

So what else?  Well, like the moon, one side of the Earth would have daylight all the time and the other freezing cold nighttime all of the time. Vegetation would be dramatically affected and our clocks and calendars would be meaningless.

So, why does Earth spin in the first place? A few billion years ago, the Big Bang explosion started most heavenly matter spinning in the same counter-clockwise direction (it was mostly hydrogen molecules, they say), some of it condensed to form our solar system, the sun and all our fellow planets, and in frictionless space it all simply keeps on spinning forever. Not all heavenly bodies spin. Our moon, for one, does not rotate. It has one side always facing the sun and the other in perpetual darkness.

So what's the likelihood of Earth slowing down or stopping spinning? Because space truly is frictionless, the only thing that could cause that would be some kind of massive collision with another equally big heavenly body. If that were to happen, we'd surely have some warning, but there's really not much we could do to prevent that big of a collision.  Asteroids, meteors, maybe, but another planet, fugetaboudit.

Bottom line, it ain’t gonna happen, but if our Earth stopped spinning, the tide would go out and not come back.

Bill Trandum is a guest columnist for the Key Pen News and a self-described student of all things winds, waters, tides and weathers.