Are High Wind Warnings highly common? - WNEM TV 5

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Are High Wind Warnings highly common?

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Wind Gusts at 3 pm on Wednesday March 8th, 2017. Wind Gusts at 3 pm on Wednesday March 8th, 2017.
Peak Wind Gusts from the WNEM viewing area. Peak Wind Gusts from the WNEM viewing area.
Information about High Wind Warnings. Information about High Wind Warnings.
High wind set up. High wind set up.
(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
SAGINAW, MI (WNEM) -

With much of the state still recovering from yesterday's destructive winds, many are wondering several questions about the event. What were the strongest winds and did we set any records, are High Wind Warnings common, and why did these winds happen? I will break that all down below! 

How Strong Were The Winds?

The strongest peak wind gust reported in the state yesterday ended up being a tie between Detroit and Saginaw, both coming in at a very impressive 68 mph. These winds are well above the threshold for a severe thunderstorm, 58 mph, and only slightly below that of a Category 1 hurricane at 74 mph.

While wind gusts this strong are an unusual occurrence, their rarity tends to be lower than you might guess. Even though official records are not kept for the strongest wind gusts, it was not hard to find records dating back as recently as 2012 where stronger wind gusts were reported around the region. That doesn't mean yesterday's event was any less impressive, just not as rare as you may have thought. 

See a list of peak wind gusts here.

How Common Are High Wind Warnings?

Days with a High Wind Warning certainly fall into the not-very-common category. It is possible to go months or even years at a time without seeing one, but when you look over the entire state of Michigan, they get to be a little more frequent. 

The criteria for a High Wind Warning to be issued is a sustained wind of 40 mph or greater, or wind gusts of 58 mph or greater. These warnings tend to be most common in Michigan during the Winter months, with most occurring between the months of October and March. On average, the state will see 6 to 7 High Wind Warnings in a given year, based on data from 2005 through 2016.

Why Were Wednesday's Winds So Strong?

Wednesday was a perfect set up for strong, damaging winds across the Mitten State. We had a very strong low pressure over Canada and a decent high pressure located directly south of it, over parts of the southern United States. The tight pressure gradient around this low created strong winds on its own, but when you pair the low pressure system's counter-clockwise winds with the high's clockwise winds directly south of it, you will get a wind tunnel effect in between the two. This was one of the factors enhancing the winds over the state on Wednesday. 

The other major factor enhancing Wednesday's winds was a cold front passing over the region at the same time as we were seeing clear skies. These clear skies allowed for a decent amount of heating to occur at the surface. This warm air had an easy time rising through the cold air above it, which was brought in by the front. This expanded something we in the meteorologist community call the mixing layer. This layer is the portion of the atmosphere where surface air and air from higher in the atmosphere mixes together. When this layer is expanded it taps into much stronger winds from high in the atmosphere and brings them down to ground level. 

These two factors combined Wednesday afternoon and were the primary factors behind the widespread wind damage throughout the day. 

See storm damage photos here.

The Forecast Ahead:

Winds are expected to stay rather gusty over the next several days, including some gusts that may go as high as 30 mph. The good news is that the type of widespread damaging wind gusts we saw on Wednesday are not expected to return in the near future. However, with the continued windy forecast, it is important to be extra careful when outside surveying or repairing any damage. The previous rounds of wind may have weakened some structures and trees, which may result in them being more likely to fall down or throw debris the next time the winds kick up. 

As always, the First Warn 5 team will keep an eye on things, and you can find your latest forecast in the WNEM TV 5 mobile app, and at WNEM.com/weather.

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