# Why does the jet stream meander?

I wanted to explain to high school students why the jet stream meanders, I am aware of the equations describing relative vorticity and planetary vorticity, the concept of conservation of vorticity i.e. F+ζ = constant.

But I want to explain it without these equations in simple terms. Can anyone give a generic explanation in layman's terms. It's ok if it's not 100% accurate but just gives a basic understanding of the concept.

• Because there are continents, so the flows are perturbed. If you look at planets with a liquid surface (e.g. Saturn) you can see the zonal patterns stay relatively isolated and unperturbed.
– f.thorpe
Commented Sep 11, 2022 at 1:21
• Think of it like a river. A river has banks that stops it from meandering. But the jet stream has only soft banks and so will be pushed upon by the jet stream itself and this will cause the 'banks' to move and hence the jet stream will meander. Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 10:25
• You don't need continents or any perturbation. Any strong flow is going to be unstable because of turbulence and it is going to start meandering. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turbulence Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 11:54