Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mount Washington’s World Record Wind Speed Toppled (sort of)...

As a weather fan, with an interest in meteorology and climatology, but also a resident and frequent climber of Northeastern United States mountains, this is a bittersweet sort of accomplishment, and one that we all knew would occur one day. However, some things need to be spoken for.

1) It was always believed there were stronger winds on earth, hurricanes, tornadoes and cyclones. As a matter of fact, via radar or other non mechanical observation, winds in excess of 300mph have been recorded. However, I believe it was always stated that Mount Washington's record was for straight line winds (ie non cyclonic winds like hurricanes and tornados) over land. There is a major difference. For instance, every few decades (or more) the Adirondacks get hit with "microburst" which are straight line winds that appear out of nowhere, and only have an impact on a very small area. The most recent can be found in the Five Ponds Wilderness on the Oswegatchie River in 1996. Thousands of acres of several hundred year old virgin white pine were blown over, leaving the forest looking like a pile of Paul Bunyon's toothpicks. These microburst are in fact not tornadoes, the winds come from one direction as a burst of air. This is similar to the winds found on Mount Washington. (edit: I should be more clear. A microburst in some ways is more like a tornado than winds created by pressure gradients, however, the central point is that cyclonic winds are not the same as straight line winds).

2) The record was always stated to be for manned surface weather stations with verifiable anemometer. There is absolutely no doubt that 231mph has been reached on other places on this planet, but none are manned continuously or with a verified anemometer. As a matter of fact, the reason the data on Mount Washington is so accurate is because it is manned. One of the problems with unmanned observatories in extreme environments is that equipment frequently fails.

3) As with 1 and 2, Mount Washington has the distinct status of owning the worlds worst weather not solely because it has 110 days of a year of hurricane force winds. Nor is it the average 300 inches of snow that falls (with a record year of 566 inches), the average 100 inches of rain, or the extreme cold (average daily temp in January is a no so balmy 5F, with wind chills hovering around -50F), or freezing fog, and potential for rain and sub zero temps in the same 24 hour period. I could go on, but you get the point.

Regardless of the record, which was officially certified 16 years after it occurred, the Northeastern US continues to hold the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded in the Northern Hemisphere, and that is not exactly a minor thing.

In The Mountains of NH, Men are made.

The Mount Washington Observatories official statement:

On Friday, January 22, 2010, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a report stating that a new world record wind speed was recorded on April 10, 1996 in Barrow Island, Australia during Typhoon Olivia. According to the report, the new record stands at 253 mph, far surpassing the Observatory’s record of 231 mph recorded on April 12, 1934.

Like many Mount Washington Observatory fans, we were surprised to learn this news. While we certainly respect the work of the WMO Evaluation Panel and acknowledge the panel’s findings, it is natural to treat such news with a certain level of skepticism. We have received the supporting documentation and are eager to learn more about the group’s findings.

Mount Washington’s 231 mph wind gust remains the fastest surface wind ever observed in the Western and Northern Hemispheres and the fastest wind ever observed at a manned surface station. Mount Washington’s bitter cold, freezing fog, heavy snow and legendary wind have contributed to its reputation as being one of the planet’s most extreme places, the “Home of the World’s Worst Weather”.

In The Mountains of NH, Men are made.

No comments:

Post a Comment