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Big Wind Day

Big Wind Day commemorates the 231-mile-per-hour wind gust that was recorded at Mount Washington Observatory, a weather station located at the summit of Mount Washington in New Hampshire, on April 12, 1934. Recorded by the observatory's first weather team, made up of Alex McKenzie, Salvatore (Sal) Pagliuca, and Wendell Stephenson, it was the highest natural wind speed on the planet at the time. The observatory was only in its second year of operation.

April 11 started with winds blowing at 55 mph, mellow by Mount Washington's standards. But high cirrus clouds on a clear day suggested worse weather conditions were on the horizon. Clouds thickened and lowered, and the summit was in a fog by noon. Glaze ice formed on surfaces, indicating to the observers that chaotic winds with a high moisture content were around them. A few hours later, winds had sped to 103 mph and shifted southeast, an unusual direction for the summit.

Stephenson took the second part of the night shift observation. When he noticed the instruments were measuring lower readings than expected, he went outside and de-iced the anemometer; he then found that winds were blowing at about 150 mph from the southeast. By early afternoon, a great storm had formed, the wind speed was averaging 173 mph, and gusts of wind were reaching over 220 mph. The group then recorded two wind gusts of 231 mph.

Mount Washington Observatory held the record for the fastest wind on the planet until April 10, 1996, when a speed of 253 mph was recorded at Barrow Island, Australia, during Tropical Cyclone Olivia. The Big Wind Day gust at the observatory still holds the record for the highest wind speed ever recorded at a staffed weather station. The day began being referred to as Big Wind Day at least by 1987. Today, the Mount Washington Observatory holds and organizes events in honor of Big Wind Day.

How to Observe Big Wind Day

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