Wind is the natural movement of air or other gases relative to a planet's surface. Winds occur on a range of scales, from thunderstorm flows lasting tens of minutes, to local breezes generated by heating of land surfaces and lasting a few hours, to global winds resulting from the difference in absorption of solar energy between the climate zones on Earth. The two main causes of large-scale atmospheric circulation are the differential heating between the equator and the poles, and the rotation of the planet (Coriolis effect). Within the tropics and subtropics, thermal low circulations over terrain and high plateaus can drive monsoon circulations. In coastal areas the sea breeze/land breeze cycle can define local winds; in areas that have variable terrain, mountain and valley breezes can prevail.
Winds are commonly classified by their spatial scale, their speed and direction, the forces that cause them, the regions in which they occur, and their effect. Winds have various aspects: velocity (wind speed); the density of the gas involved; energy content, or wind energy. In meteorology, winds are often referred to according to their strength, and the direction from which the wind is blowing. The convention for directions refer to where the wind comes from; therefore, a 'western' or 'westerly' wind blows from the west to the east, a 'northern' wind blows south, and so on. This is sometimes counter-intuitive. Short bursts of high speed wind are termed gusts. Strong winds of intermediate duration (around one minute) are termed squalls. Long-duration winds have various names associated with their average strength, such as breeze, gale, storm, and hurricane.
In outer space, solar wind is the movement of gases or charged particles from the Sun through space, while planetary wind is the outgassing of light chemical elements from a planet's atmosphere into space. The strongest observed winds on a planet in the Solar System occur on Neptune and Saturn.
In human civilization, the concept of wind has been explored in mythology, influenced the events of history, expanded the range of transport and warfare, and provided a power source for mechanical work, electricity, and recreation. Wind powers the voyages of sailing ships across Earth's oceans. Hot air balloons use the wind to take short trips, and powered flight uses it to increase lift and reduce fuel consumption. Areas of wind shear caused by various weather phenomena can lead to dangerous situations for aircraft. When winds become strong, trees and human-made structures can be damaged or destroyed.
Winds can shape landforms, via a variety of aeolian processes such as the formation of fertile soils, for example loess, and by erosion. Dust from large deserts can be moved great distances from its source region by the prevailing winds; winds that are accelerated by rough topography and associated with dust outbreaks have been assigned regional names in various parts of the world because of their significant effects on those regions. Wind also affects the spread of wildfires. Winds can disperse seeds from various plants, enabling the survival and dispersal of those plant species, as well as flying insect and bird populations. When combined with cold temperatures, the wind has a negative impact on livestock. Wind affects animals' food stores, as well as their hunting and defensive strategies.
The winter of 1998 saw the strongest gale force winds in ten years hitting across the whole of Europe. Hurricane-force gusts caused structural damage to buildings, brought down power lines to thousands of homes, caused the suspension of shipping and ferry services, brought down thousands of trees and caused numerous deaths across Europe. Insurers expect claims to run into ten of millions of dollars.