When it’s 73 degrees, Woodstock moves at speed of sound – literally

I don’t know why I never realized this before: Woodstock happens to move exactly at the speed of sound. Given its reputation for music, isn’t this a cool thing? Doesn’t it suggest some sort of corporate-type logo? Woodstock: We Always Break the Sound Barrier.

Let me explain. I was doing a piece (for another publication) about the geographic North Pole. That’s where you can stand at our planet’s axis. It’s where meridians of longitude converge into a pinprick. Its sole address is latitude 90 degrees North. It’s where Santa lives: the only place that has no longitude. At the North Pole, every direction is south. You can turn off your car’s GPS. At the Pole alone, you’re not carried along by our planet’s spin.

Now, a person at the Equator forever moves at 1,038 miles per hour as our world rotates. This barely changes as you travel – at first. Go five degrees or 350 miles north, and the spin speed drops by a negligible four miles per hour. But the next 350 miles bring it down 12 miles per hour. By the time you reach Brooklyn, you’re moving just 795 miles per hour, and now a further 350-mile jump slows you by 60 miles per hour, taking you below the sound barrier for the first time.


But where on Earth would you be rotating at exactly the speed of sound? I was working that out. The formula is to multiply the cosine of latitude by 1,038. Then it hit me and I was stunned: The answer is Woodstock, New York – the laid-back hippie place. Who says that irony isn’t everywhere? We’re at the sound barrier.

The rapid slowdown with higher latitude reaches zero at the Pole. You’d just stand there motionless, pivoting more slowly than a sloth, facing the opposite way 12 hours later.

There is a caveat. Sound’s airspeed depends on temperature – not your elevation, just temperature. Our own region’s rotation is so close to sound that temperature matters if we’re going to match it up with one particular village or town.

Here’s the fine-tuning: Sound zooms 768 miles per hour at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, but speeds up to 770 miles per hour at 72 degrees, 773 miles per hour at 75 degrees and 776 miles per hour when it’s 80 degrees.

Now let’s look at how fast our region is going, as our planet turns: The town of New Paltz, latitude 41.75 degrees North, spins at 774 miles per hour. This never changes. Kingston, just shy of 42 degrees, spins at 772 miles per hour. Woodstock’s Village Green moves at 770.77. Saugerties lopes a bit slower at 770.1 miles per hour. And sleepy Hudson and Windham rotate at 768 miles per hour.

Conclusion: The speed of sound precisely matches New Paltz’s spin whenever it’s 76 degrees there. Woodstock and Saugerties are right smack at the sound barrier on 73-degree days. Kingston gets the nod when it’s 74 degrees. But this is splitting hairs; we’re all extremely close here. By comparison, the White House, Montreal or Fairbanks are thumbs down: They spin at 808 miles per hour, 727 miles per hour and 422 miles per hour respectively.

For you geography nerds, here’s something cool: Latitude lines are about 69 miles apart. So are longitude lines. Yet the exact 42-degree latitude line passes right through West Hurley. You cross it on Route 375 when between Route 28 and the Hurley Ridge supermarket.

Oddly enough, the nearest longitude line is here, too. We live near a geodetic crossroad. The 74-degree line passes through Kingston. You can even find the crosshair spot that’s at 42°00’00.00 latitude and 74°00.00.00 longitude. It’s a vacant field. If the map-loving part of you wants to salute it, just pass the Ten Broeck Commons nursing home while driving out of Kingston, and in a minute, just as you approach a grassy traffic triangle whose left leg crosses the Thruway – that field on your right is the place.

Please buy that land and invite me for dinner, and we’ll toast…er, something.