The trade winds or easterlies are the permanent east-to-west prevailing winds that flow in the Earth's equatorial region. The trade winds blow mainly from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere, strengthening during the winter and when the Arctic oscillation is in its warm phase. Trade winds have been used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world's oceans for centuries. They enabled colonial expansion into the Americas, and trade routes to become established across the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
In meteorology, they act as the steering flow for tropical storms that form over the Atlantic, Pacific, and southern Indian oceans and make landfall in North America, Southeast Asia, and Madagascar and East Africa. Shallow cumulus clouds are seen within trade wind regimes and are capped from becoming taller by a trade wind inversion, which is caused by descending air aloft from within the subtropical ridge. The weaker the trade winds become, the more rainfall can be expected in the neighboring landmasses.
The trade winds also transport nitrate- and phosphate-rich Saharan dust to all Latin America, the Caribbean Sea, and to parts of southeastern and southwestern North America. Sahara dust is on occasion present in sunsets across Florida.