What causes wind (Hot air rises) – Wind and weather Science

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Hot air balloon floating over a river - hot air rising is what causes wind

Hot air balloon – hot air rising is what causes wind

Hot air is lighter than cold air

When something is hot, its molecules are farther apart than when it is cold. When air is hot, its molecules are further apart, so it takes up more room. That makes hot air lighter than cold air, because the cold air has more molecules in the same amount of room.

More about molecules
What is heat?

Hot air rises up above the cold air, then gets cold again

On Earth, air that is down near the ground is usually warmer than air further up in the sky, because the oceans warm up the air. Because the hot air is lighter than the cold air above it, it floats up through the cold air to lie on top of the cold air. Once the hot air gets high up, far from the ground, though, it’s nearer to space. It’s colder up there than it is down on the ground, just as it’s colder on top of a mountain. So the hot air cools down, and then gravity slowly pulls the cooler air back down to the ground again.

A hurricane in Cuba

A hurricane in Cuba

Tornadoes and hurricanes

This cycle of hot air rising, cooling off, and then sinking again is what causes wind and tornadoes and hurricanes on Earth, and on other planets as well probably. Sometimes when warmer air bumps into colder air it causes thunderstorms, too.

What are hurricanes?
What causes thunderstorms?

Global warming and climate change

As the oceans get warmer because of global warming, they warm up the air above them, and there’s more hot air to rise up and cause winds. We can expect more, and stronger, hurricanes in the future because of climate change.

What causes global warming?

Learn by doing – Hot air rises
Making a hot air balloon

Bibliography and further reading about the atmosphere:


Learn by Doing – Clouds
More about clouds
More about Thunderstorms
And more about Weather
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By |2018-09-19T08:16:28+00:00August 20th, 2017|Physics|5 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. What causes wind (Hot air rises) – Wind and weather Science. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 20, 2017. Web. January 20, 2019.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. […] is universally acknowledged that hot air rises, but this is not a one-way flow, as the eventually rising hot air cools down and falls. This […]

  2. Emma March 20, 2018 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    So what is the answer my science teacher is boring so plz help me do my hw WHAT IS IT PLEASE

    • Karen Carr March 20, 2018 at 11:16 pm

      I’m pretty sure reading the article will give you the answer.

  3. James January 2, 2018 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    It is physically impossible for hot air to be “lighter” than cold air. It’s about density. Not weight.

    • Karen Carr January 2, 2018 at 4:16 pm

      No, it’s actually lighter. It has fewer molecules for the same volume, so that same volume of air weighs less. You could also say that the same number of molecules would take up more room, because they’re farther apart from each other. Weight and density are related, even if they’re not exactly the same.

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