14

A record wind gust of 231 miles/hour was recorded in 1934, according to http://www.mountwashington.org/about/visitor/recordwind.php

Wind speeds of this magnitude are commonly known to damage or destroy structures as well as most mechanical instruments. You would think instrument readings would be given error bars, and larger error bars if conditions are not ideal for the use of the instrument. Usually, instruments are calibrated under very controlled conditions, and one should be skeptical about the use of the instrument under conditions beyond the manufacturer's rated specifications. With weather records, though, it seems to be common just to compare the numbers and see which is a new high or new low.

This snippet from the webpage above, explains events surrounding the storm in question:

April 12, 1934...

Stephenson suited up, grabbed a wooden club and headed for the door. The intense wind created so much pressure that he was knocked to the floor as he opened the door. He struggled as he made his way to the ladder. The wind was at his back, and actually helped him maintain solid footing on the ladder. With dozens of blows, he cleared the accumulated ice from the anemometer. He dropped the club by accident, and it sailed off into the fog towards the Tip Top House.

Back inside, he flipped on the recorder and began timing the clicks from the telegraph sounder. After three tries, he verified that the wind now topped 150 mph.

This seems most incredible. Are we to really believe someone went up on a ladder, outside, in 100-150mph winds, in weather involving accumulating ice? Is this from a time when Men were Men and Giants walked the Earth?

According to Wikipedia "Wind Speed" , this record still stands as the second highest wind speed ever recorded.

Should wind records like this stand as credible?

  • "Are we to really believe someone went up on a ladder, outside, in 100-150mph winds" The snippet posted does not make this claim. – NPSF3000 Jun 8 '16 at 0:42
  • @NPSF3000 - of course it does. Nowhere in that snippet does it say that the winds suddenly picked up or started AFTER he came back in. Indeed, it talks about the severity of the winds and how they impeded his progress, overall. It is absolutely making that claim. – PoloHoleSet Jan 6 '17 at 14:51
  • @PoloHoleSet How could it possible make the claim that he went out in 150mph winds when their measuring equipment was down? The measurement was taken after he returned inside. Anything else is speculation or conjecture. – NPSF3000 Jan 6 '17 at 14:59
  • @NPSF3000 - You may not think the claim is proven, but you were saying the claim was never made. The winds were present when he tried to get out there, as evidenced by the descriptions of how he was thrown around and affected by the winds, how his club flew off into the fog, borne by the winds. Nowhere does it suggest that the winds picked up in that time period. You can just as easily say that the winds could have subsided in that time period as you can that they started. There's nothing in the snippet to indicate anything BUT the claim that the winds were present the whole time. – PoloHoleSet Jan 6 '17 at 15:03
  • @PoloHoleSet "Nowhere does it suggest that the winds picked up in that time period." but there is no claim to the contrary either. This is speculation from the reader, but not from the source. – NPSF3000 Jan 6 '17 at 15:05
1

It seems unlikely. Let's compare this with tornado wind speeds. According to the TORRO scale, 150mph would qualify as a T5 tornado, with results as following:

Heavy motor vehicles levitated; more serious building damage than for T4, yet house walls usually remaining; the oldest, weakest buildings may collapse completely.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale gives similar results. Note that the wind speeds listed are approximate, and are largely estimates (rather than trying to stick anemometers into tornadoes). Also, some of the damage is from the internal vacuum rather than the winds, but not all.

Hurricane-force winds are 73mph or greater according to the Beaufort scale, and a hurricane with 150mph winds is the highest classification.

I don't think Stephenson would have been able to walk both directions. The club could have been caught by a much lighter wind and sent sailing. I think we have a major measurement error here.

  • 7
    A tornado is a very different beast - the destructive force there is pressure differential, not wind speed. Even as a child I walked to school in hurricane force winds - standard practice where I grew up; you had to, as it was very often windy (the highest I walked in being a bit over 90mph). Continuous wind is nowhere near as destructive as you might imagine, especially when the local building code takes this into account (ie low, stone buildings etc) – Rory Alsop Mar 24 '11 at 14:40
  • 1
    It might seem unlikely, but there are quite a few places above the earth that 150mph winds are damn near typical. – JayC Mar 14 '12 at 3:06
  • 2
    Peak Gust (Year) for Mount Washington Observatory was 178mph, would that also be "major measurement error"? – JayC Mar 14 '12 at 3:08
  • 2
    -1 This does not address the claim, rather it reinforces OP's speculation. – NPSF3000 Jun 8 '16 at 0:44
13

Ignoring records, what are the peak speeds that are often recorded?

If this Mount Washington Monthly Statistics report is accurate (and, unfortunately, they don't seem to have a permanent link to individual montly stats), February 2012 saw:

   Average for the Month:   47.2mph
   Departure from Normal:   4.2mph 
   Peak Gust:   118.0 from the W (13)
   Days with 73 MPH or More:    18
   Days with 100 MPH or More:   5

The peak gusts as grouped by month can also be found here.

So clearly, this is a very windy place. I don't know what kind of probability distributions winds have been observed to follow, but it doesn't seem that unlikely that Gusts of double that would occur given enough timeframe.

Secondly, we might want to examine what factors might strong winds, and/or bursts of wind?

If we consider jet streams: (Source: USA Today "(Answered by meteorologist Bob Swanson, USA TODAY's assistant weather editor, June 27, 2007)") "Typical winter speeds of the jet stream can range from 100 mph to 150 mph." mph range, which by the way, are regularly measured by meteorologists and often need to be accounted for by commercial pilots, we still find it isn't that hard to find around and above the where winds winds regularly reach incredible speeds. Furthermore, it doesn't seem implausible that a mountain that might regularly poke out into the jet stream (which, Mount Washington apparently does, although I lost the link, sorry)

So, I guess, my question to you, is, what is it about the claimed record that bothers you the most, and what precisely do you mean by "wind records like this"?

(BTW, it's ok to be bothered.)

Edit: ok, I know it's an old question, but I didn't like the accepted answer. The Accepted answer doesn't even consider jet streams, and that's probably the critical part of this wind speed record.

  • 1
    +1 I lived in NH back in 2000-2003. Not only does one need to consider wind itself, but the way the mountains will have an effect. A lot of wind gets "faster" because of bernouli's principle! I don't have references, but I'm sure you can find it easilly. – JasonR Jun 7 '12 at 19:56
  • 2
    This is actually a nice answer. What still bothers me is the use of instruments outside their calibrated range, lack of error bars, and "wild stories". – Paul Jan 21 '13 at 4:20
  • 1
    @JayC I don't think the 231 mph gust was because of the jet stream, because the gust was from the southeast. – DavePhD Jun 7 '16 at 13:39
  • @DavePhD, yeah, the jetstream is a troposphere phenomenon, so certainly it doesn't directly cause these wind gusts. My answer has some issues as well; I just don't know how to fix it. I think mainly wanted to point out that somewhere in the atmosphere winds of 150mph regularly occur. Now does the common direction of the jet stream affect the storm tracks that cause these gusts? Maybe. I swear I've heard a meteorologist make some sort of claim like that. But I'm uncertain. – JayC Jul 21 '16 at 18:15
  • 1
    @DavePhD I long ago upvoted your answer. It's only been recently I've decided I needed to do something about my answer, even if my action were only to comment. I'm not sure what to do besides deleting my answer. I don't want to do that either. I made some good points! But I also made one or two bad points. – JayC Jul 21 '16 at 18:37
9

THE GREAT WIND OF APRIL 11-12, 1934, ON MOUNT WASHINGTON, N.H., AND ITS MEASUREMENT

In the course of preparation of this paper, and in order to establish all the facts of such important records, arrangements were made with the cooperation of the Chief of the Weather Bureau and the Director of the Bureau of Standards to subject the anemometer to one or more new tests. The attention of the reader is invited to Dr. C. F. Marvin's discussion of all the tests and his refined analysis of the record and extrapolation of corrections beginning page 191.

At noon, April 12, the hourly wind movement had risen to 155 miles with gusts reaching a velocity well above 200 mi./hr. From-12 noon to 1-p.m. while other conditions were comparatively unchanged, the wind attained its extreme force. Between 12:25 p.m. and 12:30 p.m., a 5 minute average wind velocity of 188 mi./hr. was recorded on the Weather Bureau type multiple register (fig. 2). Gusts were frequently timed by two observers, with stop-watch and Nardin chronometer, and the values obtained corrected by means of the extrapolated calibration curve of the United States Bureau of Standards, (fig. 9-A).

While frequent values of 225 mi./hr., including two-thirds mile at this speed, were obtained, several gusts of 229 mi./hr. were timed, and at 1:21 p.m. the extreme value of 231 mi./hr. for a succession of 3 one-tenth mile contacts was timed twice. This is the highest natural wind velocity ever officially recorded by means of an anemometer on Mount Washington or anywhere else.

Other high wind events at the same location are:

180 mph (1942)

178 mph (1980)

174 mph (1979)

172 mph (1985)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .