The Big Wind: Looking back to a historic day

2014-04-12 18:39:01.000 – Kaitlyn O`Brien,  Weather Observer/Education Specialist

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Today is a big day for the Observatory! Exactly 80 years ago today, the 231mph record wind was observed and recorded by Sal Pagliuca, Alex McKenzie, and Wendell Stephenson. Also joining the crew were 2 guests, Arthur Griffin and George Leslie. The fourth observer, Robert Stone, had to be transported down the mountain due to a skiing injury a few days before the record wind was observed.

Reflecting on some of the journal entries from these brave observers, perhaps my favorite line comes from Sal when he recalls the first few moments after realizing how large of a wind velocity was actually recorded:

‘Will they believe it?’ was our first thought. I felt then the full responsibility of that startling measurement. Was my timing correct? Was the method OK? Was the calibration curve right? Was the stopwatch accurate?
– Log Book entry, Sal Pagliuca

As weather observers atop Mount Washington, our primary mission is to accurately record and disseminate meteorological measurements to the best of our ability every hour, every day, every year. This mission has remained unchanged since the inception of the Observatory in 1932. To the crew’s amazement, their long days of hard work and meticulousness soon paid off when a record setting observation was made just two years later on April 12, 1934.

Understandably, this explains Sal’s feelings of doubt and uncertainty, as a wind velocity this large was unprecedented, however after a series of anemometer tests and calibrations, the record 231mph wind was confirmed to be accurate by the National Weather Bureau. In fact, this record still holds as the fastest windspeed ever recorded and observed at a staffed, non-automated station. While it’s true that larger wind speeds certainly exist in extreme capacities, for instance 300+mph Doppler radar estimated winds within tornadoes, the 231mph measurement is still the largest non-estimated and non-automated wind record to date, which is an important distinction to make.

Fast forward to now, and you will see that although many changes have occurred over the past 80 years, the Weather Observers working atop the summit still seek to uphold this same mission of recording and disseminating accurate data with the hopes of advancing our understanding of Earth’s atmosphere.

Happy Big Wind Day!

 

Kaitlyn O`Brien,  Weather Observer/Education Specialist

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