Jan 31 2013

Walking Down Vortex Street

Published by at 7:30 am under Musings & News,Weather & Sky

I know almost nothing about fluid dynamics but my article about wingtip vortices two weeks ago piqued my interest in the subject.

Last weekend I learned about this amazing phenomenon, the von Kármán vortex street, animated above by Cesareo de La Rosa Siqueira.

Von Kármán vortex streets occur when a fluid flows past a stationary object and generates a long line of vortices that swirl in opposite directions.  The phenomenon was named for Theodore von Kármán, the man who described it, and is probably called a street because it looks like one.

We usually don't see von Kármán vortex streets in the wind, but it's important that engineers plan for them.  If a tall structure is uniformly straight the vortices can make it fall down.  Click here to read about a famous mistake.

On a small scale, von Kármán vortex streets make telephone wires sing in the wind.  On a large scale they're visible from outer space when clouds blow past a tall island.

Here's a picture taken from the space shuttle that shows cloud cover blowing past Rishiri Island, Japan.  When the wind encounters Mt. Rishiri the clouds form a von Kármán vortex street on the downwind side.

Pretty cool, huh?

There are more than twenty islands that reliably generate von Kármán vortex streets.  Click here to see more pictures from NASA.

(Vortex animation by Cesareo de La Rosa Siqueira via Wikimedia Commons.  Space shuttle photo from NASA via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Walking Down Vortex Street”

  1. Geneon 31 Jan 2013 at 8:25 am

    Very cool,

    The Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed the same year it was constructed and they believe possibly because of the resonance of the vortices you describe.

    Very powerful they can be.




  2. George Bercikon 31 Jan 2013 at 10:24 am

    Kate: You impress me more every day. You could have been a physicist. Vortex technology is utilized in mining engieering,especially dealing in ventilation issues.

  3. CarrolltonOhon 31 Jan 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I learned something new today….Thank You Kate!

  4. Tom Briscombeon 04 Feb 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Speaking of ‘Walking Down Vortex Street’……It has reminded me of the many forms that Starlings take when flocking at Sunset, looking for a roost.

    The collective noun for this activity is a Mumuration of Starlings… By the very nature of this swirling, I have often thought that a Vortex of Starlings might be more descriptive.

    The image below of Starlings over Rome, starts to illustrate this pattern…



  5. Kate St. Johnon 04 Feb 2013 at 6:20 pm

    Very cool, Tom. You might enjoy this video I posted in Feb 2011

    I haven’t seen anything this awesome in the U.S. with starlings, though we have them.

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply