Have you ever felt a strong gust of wind and wondered what's the fastest wind ever recorded on the surface of the earth?
World Record for Fastest Wind Speed
The fastest wind speed ever recorded comes from a hurricane gust. On April 10, 1996, Tropical Cyclone Olivia (a hurricane) passed by Barrow Island, Australia. The equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane at the time, is 254 mph (408 km/h).
U.S. Highest Wind
Before Tropical Cyclone Olivia came along, the highest wind speed measured anywhere in the world was 231 mph (372 km/h) recorded at the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire on April 12, 1934. After Olivia broke this record (which was held for nearly 62 years) the Mount Washington wind became the second fastest wind worldwide. Today, it remains the fastest wind ever recorded in the United States and in the Northern Hemisphere; the U.S. commemorates this wind record every April 12th on Big Wind day.
With a slogan like "Home of the World's Worst Weather," Mount Washington is a location known for having harsh weather. Standing at 6,288 feet, it is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States. But its high elevation isn't the only reason it regularly experiences heavy fogs, whiteout conditions, and gales: its position at the crossroads of storm tracks from the Atlantic to the south, from the Gulf, and from the Pacific Northwest makes it a bullseye for storminess. The mountain and its parent range (the Presidential Range) are also oriented north-south, which increases the likelihood of high winds. Air is commonly forced over the mountains, making it a prime location for high wind speeds. Hurricane-force wind gusts are observed at the mountain's summit nearly a third of the year. but a perfect spot for weather monitoring which is why it is home to a mountaintop weather station called the Mount Washington Observatory.
How Fast is Fast?
200 miles per hour is fast, but to give you an idea of just how fast, let's compare it to wind speeds you may have felt during certain weather conditions:
- blizzard winds blow at 35 mph or more;
- winds in a severe thunderstorm can gust in the 50 to 65 mph range;
- a weak category 5 hurricane's strongest sustained winds blow at 157 mph.
When you compare the 254 mph wind speed record to these, it's easy to tell that that is some serious wind!
What about Tornadic Winds?
Tornadoes are some of the weather's most violent windstorms (winds inside of an EF-5 can exceed 300 mph). Why then, aren't they responsible for the fastest wind?
Tornadoes usually aren't included in the rankings for fastest surface winds because there is no reliable way to measure their wind speeds directly (they destroy weather instruments). Doppler radar can be used to estimate a tornado's winds, but because it only gives an approximation, these measurements cannot be seen as definitive. If tornadoes were included, the world's fastest wind would be approximately 302 mph (484 km/h) as observed by a Doppler on Wheels during a tornado occurring between Oklahoma City and Moore, Oklahoma on May 3, 1999.