Big Wind Day

2010-04-12 23:23:02.000 – Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

Nothing to do w/ the comment – just neat looking.

I awoke this afternoon with a single email in my work inbox that read “Happy…” from Michelle Cruz. Curious I opened it and in the body, I read “…Big Wind Day.” On April 12, 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory measured a wind gust of 231 mph or as it has been dubbed “The Big Wind”, a speed that created a new world record that stood for several years. For the past few years I have worked here, April 12th was a big deal as one or two publications called us about our thoughts or our inbox received a few emails similar to Michelle’s email. But this year, nothing; our phone was idle and our inbox remained empty. This year just felt different for some reason.

I think a question I was asked by an Edutripper best summarizes why it might feel different. In February, just after a new world record was reported as occurring in Australia back in the 90’s, I was talking about our winds up here and mentioned “The Big Wind”. The guest followed up with, “Can you really still call it ‘The Big Wind’ or should you probably start saying ‘A Big Wind’ or ‘Our Big Wind’.” I was dumbfounded and just responded with a maybe. But it did get me thinking whether or not it should still be called The Big Wind. But in my thinking, I thought back to my big wind.

On October 30, 2006, I was outside deicing for a wind gust of 158 mph, a wind speed that has yet to be passed in my or any of my coworkers time here. It was very memorable in so many ways. One thing I remember was the noise. It was LOUD. Outside, you would yell at someone next to you and nothing could be heard. You could literally stand next to someone’s ear and barely hear an audible word. And inside just sounded ferocious. But it wasn’t just sound as the northwesterly wind was shaking the concrete structure we are housed in. And it isn’t a weak building with 2-3 feet of concrete in most places. It was enough commotion to wake up my coworker at the time. A cup on the table was rippling at times as the gusts around the peak were roaring. And outside, as snow was blown about and chunks of ice heaved, my body became a checkerboard of bruises by morning. A scary moment in my life that has etched my big wind into memory. But this was only 158 mph, what was 231 mph like?

Housed in a little wooden building, it had to have been shaking something fierce. I am betting there was no sleeping by anyone as a mixture of fear and excitement set in. Could a spoken word even be heard indoors from the wind outside? Deicing must have been something beyond words. To think of what we wear outdoors compared to what they had, it is hard to fathom. We videotaped my 158 mph wind gusts but back then, their experiences were remembered by written word. There was no Youtube, no observer comments, no email, etc. It was just the men that experienced it and their relaying of what they saw and felt that night; a big wind that was beyond words I’m sure.

So thinking of my big wind of 158 mph and comparing it to their big wind of 231 mph, I have no trouble calling it THE Big Wind. And sure, it might not be The Big Wind on a world stage any longer, but to me, our big wind is still The Big Wind. I have always said that as technology improves and remote sensing becomes more and more reliable and viable, it would only be a matter of time until another location claimed a higher wind speed. But what sets our record wind speed or any of the wind speeds since then apart from other stations are the men and women that are up here recording them and experiencing them. There is a face and personality to them. So Australia might claim a big wind but I still feel we lay claim to The Big Wind. And who knows, there is always a chance we will get our World Record title back in the future when we measure a higher wind speed. And as long as there is a chance, there is hope. I just hope I get the chance to experience it when it happens again.


Ryan Knapp,  Staff Meteorologist

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