John Wheeler: In hurricanes and local storms, peak winds are estimates

Anemometers are located only in a few select locations, making it very unlikely that an actual maximum wind will be captured.

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FARGO — As Hurricane Ian struck the southwest coast of Florida last week, the National Hurricane Center reports had the maximum winds at 150 mph. That figure is actually an educated guess based on an instrument-laden Hurricane Hunter jet which measured even stronger winds at flight level. Meteorologists then use a formula to translate this measured wind aloft down to what sort of peak wind would be likely at the surface. Most ground measurements during the storm were less than 150 mph, but this is typical.

Anemometers are located only in a few select locations, and many are damaged or lose power during hurricanes, making it very unlikely that an actual maximum wind in a hurricane will be captured. The same problem occurs with thunderstorms and tornadoes here on the Great Plains. There is rarely a wind gauge where the peak winds are, and so these winds are best estimated by experts surveying wind damage after the storm.

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John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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