January 27, 2010

231-mph Wind Gust Loses World Record Title

Officials at the Mount Washington Observatory said Tuesday that New Hampshire's Mount Washington has lost its distinction as the site of the fastest wind gust ever recorded on Earth, The Associated Press reported.

The World Meteorological Organization posted a snippet on its Web site showing a panel of experts reviewing extreme weather and climate data that turned up a 253 mph gust on Australia's Barrow Island during Cyclone Olivia in 1996.

New Hampshire conceded its title three days later after that finding topped the 231 mph record set atop Mount Washington on April 12, 1934.

Scot Henley, the observatory's executive director, said it's obviously a big disappointment.

"Having the world record for over six decades was such a part of the soul of this organization and for fans of Mount Washington around the country," he said.

The official title at issue is "highest wind gust ever recorded on the surface of the Earth by means of an anemometer."

However, most people in New Hampshire simply referred to it as "the Big Wind," a source of pride in a state that also reveres its Old Man of the Mountain, a rock outcropping that appeared to be a man's profile and was featured on the state's quarter.

Mount Washington still holds the record for the Northern and Western hemispheres, and it still can claim to be home to some of the world's worst weather given the combination of bitter cold, snow, wind and freezing fog it frequently experiences.

Henley said no one noticed the new record gust at the time and it somehow fell through the cracks and the Australians didn't think it was a big deal.

"We hear that, and it kinds of blows our minds, but of course, we're weather fans and we're tuned into that sort of thing," he added.

The meteorological organization reached its conclusion Monday, when someone posted a link to the item on the observatory's forum.

Henley contacted the organization and learned that the information was part of a report being presented at an international conference in Turkey next month. Observatory officials plan to review it in the coming weeks.

"There's no reason to believe it's not accurate, but we owe it to this institution and to our state and really to weather fans all over the world to make sure it is indeed accurate," he said.

The Mount Washington Observatory is a private, non-profit organization that maintains a weather station at the summit of the 6,288-foot mountain.

Mary Stampone, assistant professor of geography at the University of New Hampshire and the New Hampshire State Climatologist, said she had long expected the record to fall.

She said that as they improved their technology in terms of instrumentation, and observing more locations, they were bound to pick up on something.


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