Are Daily Surface Wind Speeds Getting Stronger?

Washington (GGM) Analysis | January 11, 2023 by Noreen Wise, Founder & CEO of Gallant Gold Media; Image Credit: AdobeStock

Anecdotal examples across the United States suggest that daily surface wind speeds are strengthening, with wind gusts reaching the gale force level on a regular basis in some regions.

Is this worrisome trend being monitored? How will the higher wind speeds impact highway safety, air travel, and building structures?

In our new Anthropocene Epoch, brought on by the human-caused global warming that has driven global temperatures beyond the +1/-1ºC norm of the Holocene Epoch — the era in which our global climate conditions remained stable and predictable for 10,000 years — scientists have begun warning that they are unable to accurately forecast how our various climate systems will change. There’s a lot they don’t know, which requires that we all stay alert and become more observant so that we can pickup on the unexpected.

“We are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory.” 

David Carlson, World Climate Research Program Director, August 9, 2021, WMO Report

Cautionary warnings by experts such as Mr. Carlson, should keep us all vigilant regarding what’s taking place around us, especially if it involves problematic weather conditions that we’re not hearing anything about on major news media outlets. 

For example, in the spring of 2022, I began noticing for the first time how many days of intense sustained winds were plaguing Northern Virginia where I live and work. Perhaps the perilous windy conditions stood out for me because of the massive parking lot where I park my car each workday morning. There’s nothing to block the gusts. No nearby buildings, trees or shrubs on the eastern side of the parking lot. The force was so powerful that I could barely walk to the building door on the western side. Additionally, the wind grabbed my car door when I opened it, and flung it so far that I was concerned the door would be pulled off the hinges. This went on for days and then weeks. I began wondering if the gusts would grow even stronger in the upcoming years if the global temperature keeps rising.

The parking lot peril wasn’t the only worrisome weather anomaly I experienced in the spring of 2022. One afternoon, I was driving home from a hike at Sky Meadows State Park on highway 66. It was a perfectly beautiful day. Bright blue sky, warm sun, buds popping out across the landscape, and a very forceful sustained wind. The highway speed limit was 70 mph. I was attempting to drive 80 mph to pass an 18-wheeler, but this was proving impossible. The gusts were overwhelming my car, causing it to veer left nearly crossing into the shoulder, just as the massive truck on my right was drifting into my lane. I tried not to panic. I clutched the steering wheel fiercely with both hands, holding on so tightly that my hands fell asleep. The wind gusts wouldn’t stop. This unmanageable wall of wind was constant. There was nothing along the sides of the highway to blunt its force. It felt like a miracle when I finally arrived home intact. My big takeaway from the unexpected treacherous drive was that cars and trucks shouldn’t be driving 70 mph in winds above a certain level. I also realized how advantageous it would be to own a low lying sports car with its hood angled in such a way that it cut into the wind.

Eventually, the winds finally died down and life returned to normal. But the negative experiences haunted me into the fall. I couldn’t find a single climatologist on social media posting about high winds and the impact on highway safety. Nor a meteorologist. Yet, clearly winds were growing in force, creating dangerous conditions on multiple fronts.

By late December 2022, I’d made several additional discoveries and felt much more hopeful that the strengthening wind speeds would soon be addressed. One lucky find was a Minnesota Public Radio’s Climate Cast podcast with meteorologist Paul Huttner who had an illuminating conversation with Dr. Mark Seeley, University of Minnesota Professor Emeritus for the Department of Soil, Water. Seeley is both a climatologist and a meteorologist and remarked on December 15, 2022: “The wind conditions have been startling to me. The amount of wind gusts over 30 and 40 miles per hour is just off the charts statistically. We haven’t seen anything like this for decades, quite frankly. And I don’t have a simple explanation for it, nor have I encountered anyone who does.”

Stronger winds were finally on an expert’s radar screen.

Further digging led to an article published on June 6, 2021 by the Maine Monitor: “Wind: The overlooked wild card in climate change.” Journalist Marina Schauffler outlined the state of Maine’s wind observations, noting that a 2019 study found that the “global average wind speed increased nearly 6 percent, from 7.0 to 7.4 mph.”  Maine regional forest ranger Joe Mintz, chair of the state’s fire weather team, found the increased wind speed with stronger gusts posed a significant threat. “Historically, the state’s largest and most destructive fires have been wind driven,’ Mintz noted: ‘Here in Maine, wind is our nemesis.’” Schauffler went on to highlight that despite all the data indicating a strengthening of winds, it hadn’t been “carefully analyzed.”

Over the past decade pencil skyscrapers have shot up across Manhattan, transforming the skyline. A February 7, 2021 article in the Guardian — written by journalist Victoria Bekiempis: “High anxiety: super-rich find supertall skyscraper an uncomfortable perch” — brought to our attention that typically skyscrapers sway a bit. Bekiempis quoted the New York Times in her piece, pointing out that “A 1,000 ft building may sway several inches on a day with normal winds. On days with 50mph wind, such a tower may move approximately six inches. In the rare event of 100mph gusts, this height structure could move up to two feet.”

How much more will these towering behemoths sway as wind speeds increase? Will pencil skyscrapers sway more than the others? Can they snap in half?

I had the good fortune of visiting Bermuda the first week of December 2022. There I met Ty who’s lived on the island all his life. Ty explained that Bermuda is plagued by powerful winds that blow down the tall trees. It’s therefore an island of many, many shrubs, some that are very tall and serve as wind blocks. I observed that the vast majority of Bermuda’s streets are lined on both sides with towering shrub walls that protect cars, homes and people from the wind and aid in purifying the air. Shrubs also store a lot of carbon. According to Weatherspark, the windy season in Bermuda is October 21 through April 18 with an average wind speed of 14.9 mph. During the month of February, the windiest month of the year, the average hourly windspeed in Bermuda is 18.7 mph.

Winter wind can be deadly. According to the National Weather Service, “As the wind increases, it draws heat from the body, driving down skin temperature and eventually the internal body temperature.”  The NWS created a chart that reflects how far the temperature feels like it drops depending on the windspeed, which in some cases appear unsurvivable.

SOLUTIONS:

We have to make reasonable assumptions that average surface wind speeds will continue to rise and pose a very serious threat. New safety standards have to be established. A few protocols to begin the transition:

  • automobiles should be heavier, lower to the ground, and have stronger door hinges
  • new, lower speed limits during high wind conditions
  • wind block shrub walls lining all major roads including highways
  • updated building standards to protect roofs, and thicker glass placed in windows
  • new types of protective outdoor wear to prevent frostbite and death

It’s time to demand that the increased daily wind speeds be carefully analyzed and solutions be quickly implemented. Increased windpeeds are already here. Delaying our adaptation will prove deadly.

© Copyright 2023. ALL Rights Reserved.


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