What Are Some Examples of the Coriolis Effect?

The Coriolis effect plays a role in the flight paths of airliners as well as the formation and movement of hurricanes. The Earth's rotation imbues winds and objects that travel through the atmosphere with angular momentum due to the fact that the earth spins faster at the equator than it does near the poles.

When a hurricane forms, the Coriolis effect helps direct the way the winds begin to turn as the tropical cyclone builds. In the northern hemisphere, the difference in air current speeds north and south of the developing storm give it a counterclockwise spin, while storms that form in the southern hemisphere spin clockwise. Also, the Coriolis force explains why hurricanes never spawn at the equator, since the force there isn't strong enough to create the rotation necessary for the cyclone.

In air travel, the Coriolis force means that a flight path that might look arrow-straight on a flat map actually appears curved on a globe. This is because as the plane travels, the planet moves beneath it, altering its trajectory as its intended target moves.

The Coriolis force also affects airflow and the movement of weather patterns. In the northern hemisphere, fronts tend to bend to their right as they move, which is why weather systems tend to travel from northwest to southeast. The opposite is true in the southern hemisphere, where the flow is directed towards the equator.