WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Perception vs. reality - a look at recent winds

Posted May 2, 2016

A comparison of long-term average winds at RDU to those observed this year, showing that the blustery conditions at times in February through April weren't really out of the ordinary for this time of year.

Through the course of February, March and April, we had a number of three to six-day long stretches with breezy to blustery winds caused by the proximity of frontal zones with strong gradients of temperature, pressure and density.

That led many of us to believe that we were having an especially windy start to 2016, and we've gotten a number of questions and comments from viewers to the same effect.

Since April is over and in the books, I took a look back through the climate records for February, March and April to see how this year shaped up in comparison to our local history and found that the perception created by the five or six windy stretches through those three months wasn't quite carried out once you folded in data from the less-windy periods in between.

The graph above shows the 32-year average surface wind speeds measured at the Raleigh-Durham airport on the left (blue bars) compared to the observed monthly mean wind speeds for this year (red bars).

You'll see that we actually averaged a little below the long-term values for February and March, and we only managed to exceed that long-term average by one-tenth of a mile per hour in April.

Those are all mean values, averaged over a month of observations, of course.

Taking a look at the highest peak gusts observed during each month, and how they compare to the record values, we topped out with a high gust of 56 mph on February 24, a peak of 47 mph on March 14 and a top gust of 43 mph on April 9. The record values for these months at RDU are 64 mph from 1997, 61 mph from 1999 and 59 mph from 2013, respectively.

So, while it seemed quite windy throughout the past 90 days (and certainly was from time to time), it really wasn't much out of the ordinary in the historic sense.

I've noticed that it isn't uncommon for a lot of us to have that sense that it's becoming especially windy as we head through the end of winter and start of spring.

Climatology shows that March and April have the highest average wind speeds of the year, and, as we move into that stretch of time each year, we all seem to notice the increase in frequency of blustery days. This makes it seem new and unique each time it comes around.


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