Hardy mountain weather station in N.H. is relieved its wind speed record is safe 231-mph mark withstands challenging Guam gust

March 12, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Mount Washington in New Hampshire learned yesterday that it keeps its 63-year-old world wind speed record. It celebrated with the third stormiest day this winter.

The National Weather Service announced that widely circulated reports of a wind gust of 236 mph from Typhoon Paka on Guam in December were "not reliable" and that the Mount Washington mark of 231 mph set April 12, 1934, is "the current world record" for wind speed.

"We're pretty happy," said Jack Halpin, staff meteorologist at the weather observatory atop the 6,288-foot-high summit shortly after getting the news. For decades, a sign and literature at the observatory proclaimed the ground wind speed record as an example of "the world's worst weather."

Halpin seemed just as pleased that the weather outside the Mount Washington Observatory yesterday was decidedly rotten: a temperature of minus 8 degrees, west wind of 50 mph, wind chill of minus 70 degrees and heavy fog with visibility of one-sixteenth of a mile.

It's been a warm winter by the peak's standards. Mount Washington broke records for March 9 and 10 with balmy readings of 40 degrees and 39 degrees. Snowfall has been 209 inches this winter, below normal.

Was El Nino to blame?

"Most definitely," Halpin said.

After Typhoon Paka devastated Guam on Dec. 16, inflicting severe damage, teams of specialists visited the Pacific island.

The Air Force inspected the anemometer used and concluded that high winds and rain produced an "unrealistically high reading."

The National Climate Extremes Committee, which includes the Weather Service, concluded that the 236-mph gust was "not accurate and cannot be accepted as a world record wind speed."

The group is the final arbiter on climatological extremes in the United States. It did not report a specific lower reading.

An article Monday in the Pacific Daily News reported unconfirmed gusts of 173 mph and 185 mph.

Jack Dunn, the Mount Washington Observatory's executive director, said he and colleagues recently "had received some indications" the Guam record might not hold up.

The private nonprofit observatory has maintained a research facility on Mount Washington since 1932. It studies weather and tests scientific instruments, equipment and materials in extreme weather conditions.

Pub Date: 3/12/98

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