How to Estimate Wind Speed

Hurricane Sandy is lashing the Northeast as I write this. Heavy winds and powerful gusts are hitting the region from Boston to North Carolina, with maximum gusts in many areas expected to reach well above 50 miles per hour. Here's a quick refresher on how to estimate wind speed at your location.

The following information has been adapted from the modern version of the Beaufort Scale, which ranks wind speed from 0 (calm) to 12 (hurricane force) based on its observable effects on water and land features.

If You Are Inland
Pay attention to the trees. Note how they move in the wind and the type of damage they are sustaining. If you're out in the wind, notice how the wind is (or isn't) affecting your ability to move around.
As you can see from this quick overview, there's a crucial (and dangerous) tipping point somewhere between 45 to 55 mph, when the wind force begins to cause significant damage and power outages as fallen branches and trees hit power lines. Keep in mind also that other factors play into this, including whether or not trees are still in leaf (and thus are more affected by damaging winds) and whether the ground is saturated from heavy rainfall, which increases the likelihood that a tree will be uprooted at lower wind speeds than might be indicated above.

If You Are by the Ocean
In addition to the cues outlined above, wave characteristics and the behavior of the water surface can be telling indications of wind speed.

It's easy to overestimate wind speed. These simple guidelines can help you gauge more precise estimates. It might not make the most thrilling story later ("The wind must have been over 100! I swear!") but it will certainly be more accurate.

Be safe out there.

“Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.