Is it getting windier? Despite damaging storms, data suggests otherwise

Weather Week

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Southern New England has seen its fair share of storms over the years, but 2020 was one to remember. It felt like the cleanup of trees and restoration of power became the norm, especially with two notable storms.

Tropical Storm Isaias, passing to the west of Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts on August 4, brought thunderstorms and downdrafts to the area that took down branches and knocked out power for thousands.

Isaias brought a couple hours’ worth of damaging wind gusts to the area in what is known as a “feeder band.”

National Grid crews stationed at Marriot Providence ahead of Isaias (Corey Welch/WPRI-TV)

A feeder band is a line of thunderstorms that stretches out from the center of a tropical system. As Isaias raced to our west, this feeder band pushed through the area and wind gusts up to 60 mph were recorded at T.F. Green Airport.

After crews restored power and cleaned up the debris, Mother Nature decided to bring a second round of wind to Southern New England.

A wind gust of 61 mph was recorded at Point Judith.

This time, it wasn’t a tropical system, but rather a southerly low-level jet at 850 millibars. Winds in this part of the atmosphere were around 80 knots. The momentum from these strong winds a few thousand feet above our heads was able to make its way down to the surface.

Combine wind gusts between 50 and 70 mph with fully-leafed trees and the end result was yet again another mess on our hands.

Something to keep in mind: neither of these storms were at hurricane status and nor were they a direct hit, but even still, our area saw significant impacts.

This raises the question: “Is it getting windier?”

Based on the historical data above (provided by Iowa State University), the average wind speed from the 1940s to current times is about 9.8 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, 2020 had a below-average wind speed of 8.5 miles per hour.

Now, here’s the kicker: every year since 1990 was below the average of 9.8 mph.

So although it may seem like it’s getting windier, the data suggests that it is actually not.

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