For those who live in the Midwest, wind is a big part of life. It shows up on perfectly clear, blue-sky days, and it takes a starring role in a lot of our severe thunderstorms. Because we see so much wind around here, it takes a lot to get us excited about it (unless it’s spinning – that kind of wind still gets folks excited).
When the NWS issues a Severe Thunderstorm Warning based on wind speeds, the threshold is 58 mph or higher. And you’ve probably realized that a lot of thunderstorms produce winds of 58 mph or higher… which also means a lot of Warnings get issued. And when a lot of Warnings get issued for just-barely-severe winds (winds that feel a lot like our “normal” everyday breezes), some folks stop listening to “just another Severe Thunderstorm Warning.”
But that’s when we need to remind ourselves that straight-line winds deserve just as much respect as spinning tornadic winds…. especially since not every severe thunderstorm will produce “just” marginal winds.
Wind speeds of 70+ mph are actually more common than you might think, and historically we’ve had thunderstorm wind speeds as high as 100 mph in the county. Considering EF-0 tornadoes start at 65 mph and EF-1 tornadoes produce winds of 86 mph and higher, that puts some of our thunderstorm winds right in line with our most common tornadoes. And both low-end tornadoes and straight-line winds can damage roofs, break windows, roll campers, uproot trees, and snap power lines.
So, when you hear that Severe Thunderstorm Warning come out, give it some serious attention and shelter appropriately (sturdy structure, interior, away from windows).