Mount Washington loses wind speed record

The observatory on the summit of Mount Washington. 

For nearly sixty-two years, Mount Washington, New Hampshire held the world record for the fastest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth. In a report released Friday by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), that record was toppled in 1996 at Barrow Island, Australia during Typhoon Olivia. According to the report, the new record stands at 253 mph.

News of the new world record was released by a WMO Evaluation Panel of experts in charge of global weather and climate extremes within the WMO Commission for Climatology (CCl). The panel was led by Dr. Randy Cerveny of Arizona State University and CCl Rapporteur of Climate Extremes.

“It was bound to happen, but it’s definitely quite a shock to hear that news,” says Scot Henley, Executive Director of the Mount Washington Observatory. “While we are disappointed that it appears that Mount Washington may have been bumped from the top, at our core we are all weather fans and we are very impressed with the magnitude of that typhoon and the work of the committee that studied it.”

Mount Washington’s famous wind gust of 231 mph, recorded on April 12, 1934 at the Mount Washington Observatory, stands as the record for the fastest surface wind measured in the Northern and Western Hemispheres.

“It’s natural to treat news like this with some level of skepticism,” said Henley. “Dr. Cerveny was kind enough to share the panel’s findings in advance of next month’s WMO meeting in Turkey. We’re going to spend some time reviewing the materials to learn more about the instrumentation, calibration, the methods used to calculate the wind speed and everything else that went into their investigation.”

“The new record does not diminish the fact that Mount Washington is one of the fiercest places on the planet,” says Ken Rancourt, Mount Washington Observatory’s Director of Summit Operations. “It remains consistently one of the windiest places on Earth and a location that begs further study of wind, weather and climate.”

“Work continues atop Mount Washington,” says Henley. “Our crew of meteorologists and educators at the Observatory stands ready to measure and study the next big wind, whenever it may come.”

Mount Washington Observatory, which operates within the 59-acre Mt. Washington State Park, is a private, non-profit, membership-supported organization. Since 1932, the Observatory has been monitoring the elements in one of the most extreme locations on Earth, using this unique site for scientific research and educational outreach.

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January 27, 2010 at 6:55 a.m. (EST)

Where's ministercreek? Yeah I know, he's not around now. But this would be right up his alley, tornado alley that is.

Strongest winds I have been in were During Hurricane Hugo at around 135 and that was holding on to the door frame of my garage door that had just disappeared.

253 MPH! That's something.

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January 27, 2010 at 10:32 a.m. (EST)

I would not be surprised to find that, if precise measurements were regularly taken, there are a number of places in the "high Arctic" in Russia, Canada and the USA, as well as in Antarctica, that have winds that average as "speedy" as those at Mt. Washington. The weather in the north tends to be far harsher than south of the 49th. and we simply so not measure it in those regions to the same extent.

An example, would be the temperature recorded on Mount Logan, in the Yukon Territory of Canada, this was -118*F.....that is COLD! Anyone who has worked outside "up north" in Canada, can tell you about cold that is literally mind altering and there are colder regions in the "eastern Arctic" of this vast country than in the Yukon.

Australia, IS a land of extremes and this report does not surprise me.

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January 27, 2010 at 10:39 a.m. (EST)

Just curious: What happens to skin exposed to minus-100 F?

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613 forum posts
January 27, 2010 at 11:32 a.m. (EST)

Don't know, have NO desire to find out, first hand.

I have solo camped at -40 and on 8+ ft. of snow and worked in forestry at -25*F in the same region of BC. It is tough and requires very careful consideration of every action so that you do not end up an icicle.

I would expect that such temps. would freeze your hide almost instantly, not an experience I would find appealing.

Bill S
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January 27, 2010 at 12:53 p.m. (EST)

Combine Arctic or Antarctic cold plus a bit of breeze (the "wind chill" factor), and you can get virtually instant freezing of the skin, aka frostbite. An interesting point is that the "instant" freezing is less than "skin-deep", affecting the outermost layer of the skin (yes, skin has several layers). The deepest layer of the skin takes several minutes to freeze, and the underlying muscle, ligaments, and other components can take a half-hour. The reason is it takes a little time for the heat to get transported out of the outer inch of flesh. So "Day After Tomorrow" instant freezing does not occur. That's why people actually survive the "Minus 90" club initiation (at the South Pole Station at -90 deg latitude, on a day when it is -90 deg F, you get all warmed up in the sauna, then, completely naked, you quickly run out, make a complete 360 degree circuit of the pole - the symbolic pole that is used for photographing visiting VIPs is not too far from the door - and run back inside to warm up). And why the "Polar Bear Club" people can actually survive their dip in ice water.

However, it is not recommended for the general public.

Back to the wind speed thing - wind speeds over 300 mph have been recorded via radar in tornados. However, those are not considered in the wind speed records because the calibration is uncertain. Only the certified anemometer-measured speeds are considered.

Highest wind speed I have ever measured with my Kestrel was about 70 knots (about 80 mph). I measured it by holding the Kestrel over the windwall around our tent and then looking at the "Max" page. People tend to overestimate wind speeds when standing in them. Several times, I have been on a ridge or peak in a strong wind and had people swear the wind was blowing "a hundred miles an hour". They are always disappointed when I haul out the Kestrel and measure 30 or 40 mph - you have a lot of difficulty standing in 50 knot winds, and 70 is close to impossible to stand up in. There is a great photo of Ray Genet sailing in the wind on Denali as his partners lying on the ground tied into anchors hold onto his rope- luckily it was only a short gust.

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613 forum posts
January 27, 2010 at 6:40 p.m. (EST)

Yup, as usual, good stuff from the OGBU.... I have measured winds to about 80 knots on a Canadian Coast Guard Lightstation and a couple of fire lookouts and climbed my 105' steel "firetower" in 50 mph. winds and had 70 mph. gusts....which any old firefighter HATES with a passion.

I was fine to about the 50 mph. mark and found the tower pretty freaky at higher gusts, however, 35-35 mph. winds are more common in the Rockies and Selkirks, even these will shake you up a bit.

Bill, are you telling us here that YOU actually ran "bucknekkid" around some post in the icecap at -90*.....well, I know about "Californios", but, geezleweze, that is WAY too weird for me!

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January 27, 2010 at 7:21 p.m. (EST)

Bill, are you telling us here that YOU actually ran "bucknekkid" around some post in the icecap at -90*.....well, I know about "Californios", but, geezleweze, that is WAY too weird for me!

Do tell, Bill.

Bill S
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January 28, 2010 at 6:23 p.m. (EST)

No, I am not and never will be a member of the Minus 90 Club. I have not been to the South Pole itself, and do not plan to risk freezing off any parts of my anatomy, or even superficial frostbite. Closest I came was when bicycling through Sweden. I went to the town sauna, got nice and warm, then took a 5 millisecond dip in their +40F pool. Round trip time from sauna to pool to sauna was less than 10 seconds, and that was only because the door was hard to open. I have a perfectly good set of long johns, midlayers, and an 8000 meter parka and pants. That's like asking if I would jump out of a perfectly good working airplane with a scrap of nylon to slow my descent to the ground, like the skydivers or even more insane BASE jumpers do.

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January 28, 2010 at 8:28 p.m. (EST)

To raise money for the special olympics I jumed into a Minnesota lake in January a couple of times. YOu may be surprised that alcohol was involved.

Read the book -148 about the first winter ascent of Denali to know what life is like when you are out in temperatures which are off the wind chill chart.

1,663 reviewer rep
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January 28, 2010 at 9:02 p.m. (EST)

Really Allen....alcohol? Naaah.....I don't believe it!

In any event, doing these things to raise money for worthy causes is noble. I once wore a dress for a couple hours and helped sell Girl Scout cookies. I could have used a drink.

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171 forum posts
January 28, 2010 at 9:50 p.m. (EST)

Sad day for Mt. Washington, and for me. Now, when I tell the story of my climb up Tuckerman's Ravine in 1972, at age 19 and weighing 105 pounds, only to stand on the summit plaque and be lifted off my feet with a sudden gust, people will no longer nod knowingly and say: "The windiest spot on the planet."

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January 29, 2010 at 12:01 a.m. (EST)

Just because they did not see it , dose not mean it didin't happen! I was in Killarney Ontario (1500') max last year and had a wind gust to over 75km's an hour.. Thats fast and quick for me and it took me of my feet! I'm 6' at 225lbs.... so I could'nt imagine being on top of Mount Washington, Rainer, Denali or so at any where near those speeds hanging around. That does not mean that their impossible but for what I'm used to here in Ontario Canada, theres not that much altitude here. I wish there was!

As for the late night "Olympic Dip" as we call here in Ontario... From the sauna to 5'+ snow in Northern Ontario ( Bancroft) in all about 45 seconds! Wind chills that night were -40+....COLD! But a Spicy Ceasar ( Drink) added to the helping hand. ;)

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January 29, 2010 at 9:49 a.m. (EST)

Sad Day for Mt Washington. I still wanna' go up there in winter sometime. Because, well, I am a sucker for trying to get myself killed! (kidding)

Obviously we don't often get crazy cold temps here in TN (though below minus 15F at over 4000ft does happen) But rafting or swimming in the mountain rivers in January without a wet suit provides some exhilarating fun! (and shrinkage)

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