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Blown Away: Wind Speed Records

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

8 Responses

  1. We get storm force winds every winter in South Eastern Labrador in the area of Black Tickle, Labrador. There are no trees in this area so when the wind blows in the winter months at 120 km/hr there are white out conditions and we get stuck inside for three days at a time before the winter storm stops. We get these storms often during the winter months.

    by Lillian Dyson on Apr 9, 2014 at 6:28 pm

  2. I was 100 miles north of Katrina hitting land and we still had winds over 100mph for a day and gradual diminishing winds another day. It lifted our house on 1 corner and set it back down and cracked our foundation. We were lucky.

    by Marsha Breland on Apr 2, 2014 at 3:49 pm

  3. In Western KS wind is measured by hanging a log chain from a flag pole. If the log chain is flopping around there is a breeze. When the wind is blowing hard the log chain stretches out in horizontal position from the flag pole.

    by Coy on Apr 2, 2014 at 2:00 pm

  4. I’ve ridden a motorcycle at 160mph.

    by Stephen Bradley on Apr 2, 2014 at 11:08 am

  5. I was also in a car in orlando when hurricane david came through.

    by Randy Lee on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:28 am

  6. I was inside an F-5 tornado, in a school bus at the age of 11 in April of 1967, in Belvedere Ill.

    by Randy Lee on Apr 2, 2014 at 10:27 am

  7. I find it funny that most do consider the May 3, 1999, 318 MPH as the fast wind speed recorded. This record is recognized by NWS and NOAA. Doppler Radar is what these two use to record airspeed where they do not have anemometer. I lived in Moore, Oklahoma on May 3, 1999 and my home took a direct hit. My got picked up and was carried about 3 block, and live to tell about it.

    by Richard Sutton on Apr 2, 2014 at 9:49 am

  8. Thank you for Farmers Almanac,and for this , on Blown Away,Wind speed records,very helpful,and interesting.

    by Ken Sechler on Apr 2, 2014 at 9:28 am

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