Blown Away: Wind Speed Records
What’s the strongest, fastest wind you’ve ever experienced?
The average wind speed on Earth is 11.1 miles per hour. The velocity in an average tornado is about 112 mph.
The fastest wind speed ever officially recorded in North America was 231 mph, sustained over a one-minute average, on Mount Washington in New Hampshire on April 12, 1934. For more than 60 years, that record was also the world record, but it was bested on April 10, 1996. During the severe category 4 tropical cyclone Olivia, the weather station on Barrow Island in Western Australia recorded a 3-second gust at a mind-blowing 253 mph.
As fast as those records are, though, there is an unofficial record that’s even faster. On May 3, 1999, a Doppler on Wheels unit recorded a 3-second gust at 318 miles per hour during a tornado near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Because the speed wasn’t recorded by an anemometer, though, it wasn’t eligible for the record books.
While impressive, such powerful winds are, by necessity, short-lived, coming on in short bursts that last only a few seconds on average. But, on March 21 and 22, 1951, Port Martin, Antarctica, sustained a remarkable wind speed average of 108 mph over a 24-hour period.
Of course, very few people ever experience such extreme wind speeds (and even fewer live to tell about it). For the sake of comparison, here’s a look at the Beaufort Scale, a system for estimating the wind speed by observing the state of the sea, using a scale on which successive ranges of wind velocities are assigned code number from 0 to 12, corresponding to categories from calm to hurricane. Devised by British Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort during the 19th Century, this scale was largely replaced by modern weather instruments, but is still useful for backyard weather watchers.
|Wind SpeedMPH||Wind SpeedKnots||Beaufort Number||National Weather Service Description||Effect of the Wind on Land||Effect of the Wind on the Sea||Wave Height|
|0-1||0-1||0||Calm||Smoke rises vertically||Sea appears mirror-like||Calm|
|1-3||1-3||1||Light Air||Direction shown by smoke drift; vane still||Ripples with an appearance of scales; no foam||0.25 ft|
|4-7||4-6||2||Light Breeze||Leaves rustle; weathervane moves||Small wavelets; crests of glassy appearance, not breakng||5-1 ft|
|8-12||7-10||3||Gentle Breeze||Leaves in constant motion; wind will extend a light flag||Large wavelets; crests begin to break; scattered whitecaps||2-3 ft|
|13-18||11-16||4||Moderate Breeze||Raises dust; small branches move||Small waves, becoming longer; numerous whitecaps||3-5 ft|
|19-24||17-21||5||Fresh Breeze||Small trees with leaves begin to sway||Moderate waves, taking longer forms; many whitecaps, some spray||6-8 ft|
|25-31||22-27||6||Strong Breeze||Large branches in motion; difficult to control an umbrella||Larger waves forming; whitecaps everywhere, more spray||9-13 ft|
|32-38||28-33||7||Moderate Gale||Whole trees in motion; noticeable difficulty in walking||Sea heaps up; white foam from breaking waves begins to be blown in streaks||13-19 ft|
|39-46||34-40||8||Fresh Gale||Small branches may be broken; walking against the wind becomes very difficult||Moderately high waves of greater length; edges of crests begin to break into spindrift; foam is blown in well-marked streaks||18-25 ft|
|47-54||41-47||9||Strong Gale||Slight damage to structures; shingles blown off roofs||High waves; sea begins to roll; dense streaks of foam; spray may begin to reduce visibility||23-32 ft|
|55-63||48-55||10||Gale||Considerable damage to structures; trees uprooted||Very high waves with overhanging crests; sea takes white appearance as foam is blown in very dense streaks; rolling is heavy and visibility is reduced||29-41 ft|
|64-74||56-64||11||Storm||Widespread damage to structures; rarely occurs inland||Exceptionally high waves; sea covered with white foam patches; visibility further reduced||37-52 ft|
|75+||65+||12||Hurricane||Extreme destruction||Air filled with foam; sea completely white with driving spray; visibility greatly reduced||45+ ft|