Wind can be a gift when it's at your back, filling your sails or turning your wind turbines (in that last example, you own a wind farm). However, it can be a huge nuisance when you don't want it around, blowing the roofs off the tents at your wedding reception or worse — mussing your hair (gasp!). Some places are much windier than others, but what exactly makes a place windy? We’ve spoken to some experts and they’ve given us their take on the world’s windiest spots. Learn about them below.
1. Mount Everest (pictured at top)
Where: Top of the planet
What: Fast-moving jet streams
It seems pretty obvious that the highest mountain in the world is going to attract some strong winds, but why? Red Bull X-Alps athlete Honza Rejmanek shares his expertise: “Mount Everest lies just under the 9,000-meter elevation (29,029 feet, to be exact). Thus it protrudes well into the level where the jet stream is found.
“The position of the jet stream is not always over the same location so it is possible to catch a calm day at the summit. There is a known window in May when most summit attempts are made because there is a lowered possibility of having the jet stream overhead.”
2. Mount Washington
Where: New Hampshire
What: Dangerous, erratic weather
This is where one of the strongest winds in history was recorded. The 231 mph wind speed held the record from 1934 until 2010, when a 253.5 mph wind speed was recorded on Barrow Island in Australia.
Media-meteorologist and mountain weather expert at UBIMET, Clemens Teutsh, says the location is a big reason for the strong wind.
“Mount Washington is situated in the presidential range of the White Mountains and so located in the convergence of several storm tracks," he explains. "It's a barrier for westerly winds and also is influenced by lows that develop along the coastline. Mount Washington also lies between colder air in the north and warmer air in the south(west). All combined, hurricane-force winds can be observed many times of the year.”
Where: Aude, Southern France
What: Home of Defi Wind
Sometimes wind is your friend, and no more so than for windsurfers. Strong winds here attract these athletes, and professional windsurfer Jason Polakow reckons Gruissan has to be one of the windiest places for the sport.
“I was just at the Defi Wind event and the wind topped out at 78 knots," he says. "I would say that this location would be one of the most windy spots to windsurf in the world.”
4. Pistol River
What: Great for windsurfing
Pistol River is in Curry County, Oregon, and is a top spot for windsurfers looking for big jumps. It’s so good that the American Windsurfing Tour created the Pistol River Wave Bash that takes place every June.
Red Bull windsurfing athlete Levi Siver talks about his love of the place: “Pistol River is one of my favorite spots due to how remote and beautiful it is. Few people can handle the rough seas and cold ocean out, there but it's worth it just for the panoramic view. In this photo I was shooting for my world record windsurfing jump. Just me and this huge ocean. It was an amazing session."
Where: End of South America
What: Roaring forties
The end of South America is infamous for its powerful winds, as Honza Rejmanek explains. “The Southern Hemisphere, in the 40 degrees south to 70 degrees south latitude range, is covered almost exclusively by ocean," he says. "The few exceptions are Tasmania, the south island of New Zealand, Patagonia, the Antarctic Peninsula and a few scattered islands.
“Prevailing westerly winds get stronger as we move southward through these latitudes. These are known as the "roaring forties," the "furious fifties" and the "screaming sixties." Cape Horn lies at 56 degrees south at the north end of the Drake Passage. Besides being at a latitude where winds tend to be very strong, there is an additional acceleration of the wind as it is funneled around the southern tip of South America.”
Where: Bottom of the planet
What: Freezing katabatic winds
Antarctica attracts some of the strongest winds on Mother Earth as there’s no landmass to slow it down before it hits. While in Commonwealth Bay, the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson battled winds higher than 199 mph.
“Due to a very thick ice sheet the South Pole sits at an elevation of approximately 9,180 feet,” says Rejmanek. “This sheet slopes progressively downward toward sea level on the Antarctic shores. Cold sloping surfaces develop katabatic, or down-slope winds. Over a large distance these can reach speeds of over 80 feet per second or more in regions where the topography causes them to converge."
7. Tornado Alley
Where: Tornado Alley
What: Destructive twisters
Dorothy got very lucky in "The Wizard of Oz" when a giant twister fell upon her house. The reality in America’s Tornado Alley is of course rather less pleasant. That’s why people living there have underground shelters.