If you’re an outdoors person, you have to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Natural obstacles, local wildlife, accidents, the right provisions, and tools for outdoor exploration. And of course, there’s weather to consider.
From thunderstorms to blizzards to heatwaves, the weather is one of the most difficult things to account for when you’re spending time outside since it feels like it can turn on a dime. But one of the constants between these wildly different conditions is the wind.
Once we’ve packed our bags and got our gear up and ready to tackle the great wild outside your house, the wind can make all that planning and preparation you did go down the drain. In a worst-case scenario, it can turn all that equipment you’re lugging around into a real health hazard, or worse still, a death sentence.
Predicting winds and knowing what to do when they hit isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible. Fortunately, the National Weather Service has a whole range of resources to help you anticipate the kinds of winds you’ll be facing, and, most importantly, figure out what you would consider a high wind. Part of going outdoors is knowing your limits, so let’s get started.
Categories Of Wind Speed
The National Weather Service has divided a list of wind scenarios into six broad categories, as a basis for people to judge whether or not their areas will be safe:
This would count as a normal, quiet day. Outside of the occasional breeze here and there, there is no danger of unexpected winds, and whatever activity you have planned can go forward. Enjoy the great outdoor!
There is definitely what would be considered ‘breezy’ or ‘windy’ weather. Speeds of about 20mph should be considered the normal with these conditions, with may the occasion strung gusts pushing up to 25 or even 30mph.
Whilst there is an element of danger here, it is very low, and most plans should be safe to carry on with unless you have a particularly dangerous activity scheduled. Still, do remember to check the weather conditions, as the situation can still change.
This would be considered ‘windy’ by most standards. Sustained winds of 21 to 25mph are the norm and should be treated with caution when outside. Expect strong changes to bring that speed up to 30 to 35mph.
Most outdoor activities should be postponed in this scenario, if not all, and you should continue to watch the latest threat levels of the situation.
This would likely be considered ‘very windy’ by most people at this point. Speeds of about 26 to 39mph will be fairly constant at this stage, with a good chance of gusts bringing that speed up to 35 to 57mph. In this scenario, you must postpone whatever activities you had planned, and avoid going outside at this point, as flying debris will become increasingly likely at these sustained winds.
Likely the result of a nearby storm. There is a high probability of injury or a threat to your life at this stage. Speeds of 40 to 57mph are common, and debris will continue to be a dangerous hazard to you. Damages from moderate to serious are to be expected.
Under no circumstances should you go outside in these conditions, unless it is to go immediately to a safer shelter of some kind. Even in this case, the danger posed by unfastened objects like garden furniture and damages blown from porches, awnings, broken tree branches, and pool enclosures is a serious threat to your life.
Make sure to stay posted on weather conditions, and follow all safety protocols.
This is truly weather, and the area is likely in the center of a heavy storm. Going outside will likely result in a serious or fatal injury. Speeds of over 58mph are normal for this category of wind.
The damages to surrounding buildings and structures will likely be very severe and in need of immediate repairs once conditions improve. Large branches with break-off trees, become serious hazards. Weak or sick trees may be blown down, potentially causing power outages if they get caught on power lines. Vehicles will be damaged or blown over, increasing the danger of being outside.
It is important to note that there is overlap between many of these levels of threat. Think carefully before you plan your activities. A Very low weather warning might turn moderate in a shockingly short amount of time.
What To Do In The Event Of High Winds
Ideally, if you know beforehand that winds will be high on whatever day you have your plans, the best thing to do would be to delay that activity until whatever warning or advisory that was given has ended. Fastened as much as your outdoor objects as you can, keep all windows and doors locked, and avoid leaving your building until the winds have calmed.
If you are caught in high winds whilst you are outdoors, you should take cover next to the closest building, or under a shelter if at all possible. Stay as clear of roads or train tracks as you can, as strong winds have to potential to push you into oncoming traffic and vehicles.
If you must be outside, use handrails to keep yourself close to any kind of barrier, and avoid going onto any elevated area with adequately high rails, such as hills or rooftops.
And of course, keep an eye out for flying debris in high winds. Branches and other tree limbs become serious health hazards, as do any outdoor objects not fastened to an appropriately stable structure, such as street signs or garden furniture. Objects from higher balconies may also become loosened and fall. Keep that in mind if you must take shelter next to a taller building with a balcony above 2-storeys
As we have discussed, storms and high winds are no laughing matter. It can be difficult to judge what is considered to be high wind for yourself. As a general rule, avoid going out in wind speeds above 35 to 40mph if you can, or if you have been advised to remain indoors. Remember, staying aware is the best defense against the storm.