SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- Western Mass News is getting answers after viewer concerns have poured into our newsroom over the increase in high wind events. We partnered with the experts in the field to find out what’s driving them and how to build a better, more resilient future.
“Why is it so windy all the time?!” asked Joe Dellicarpini, science and operations officer for the Boston office of the National Weather Service.
It’s the big question on many people’s minds. With wind headlines constantly popping up in our forecasts, we started digging deeper to get you answers. While March and April are our windiest months of the year, wind is not observed as closely as you might think.
“We report kind of an average for the month, but there’s really no records on what’s normal, so…it’s tough to kind of categorize it that way,” Dellicarpini explained.
Lena’s hypothesis? Heat is energy and storms are earth’s way of redistributing energy imbalances. The more we throw that balance off, storms are not only becoming more frequent, but also potentially more intense and tighter pressure gradients mean stronger winds.
So, is climate change to blame or at least part of the problem? We took your questions and the First Warning Weather team’s ideas straight to top experts at the National Weather Service and researching institutions in the U.S. to find out.
“I do think your theory, is climate change playing into it? I would say yeah. First of all, it’s warmer…we know that. It’s warming at the ground, but it’s still cold aloft, so that’s gonna mix a lot of the wind down, but then to your point, Lena, about the strength of our coastal lows for example. Yeah, we have stronger low-pressure systems over the water. We have, in some cases, stronger high pressure to our north and it’s that difference in pressure that creates the wind,” Dellicarpini added.
It’s not just wind speed that matters.
“Our vegetation is more kind of…acclimated for northwest winds or west winds. If we get a southeast wind, it’s a whole other story and we saw that with Isaias last summer. We saw that way back with Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, so the damage can get magnified based off of certain wind directions too,” Dellicarpini said.
While those big events are heavily monitored, day-to-day wind may be something we want to keep a closer eye on moving forward. Dr. Frank Lombardo, an engineer at the University of Illinois, is taking on the challenge.
“When you design a structure, you design for a number of different environmental loads - one of those being wind…It led me down the path of kind of trying to understand the climate projections that were coming out and then how we can link those to engineering design which turns out is pretty challenging,” Lombardo explained.
He’s working on creating an extreme wind climatology. That will make the way we build structures safer.
“The question is was it enhanced by climate change, for example, and that’s a tough question to ask, but I think that it’s one that we need to answer,” Lombardo added.
Wind exploits weaknesses, so a good starting point is learning from what failed. The most common point of failure? Garage doors.
“If the garage door fails, for example, or lets too much air in, basically you pressurize the inside of the garage and you can blow the roof off, in addition to the wind from the outside,” Lombardo said.
So how do you protect yourself and your property while the science catches up?
Garage doors rated for high wind events are a simple retrofit that can avoid garage door failure escalating to more significant damage. Also, something we see a lot in western Massachusetts is tree damage, so removing problematic trees prevents damage before it occurs.
Ultimately, future building codes and guidelines for loading of structures will soon be changing to include designs built to withstand tornado loading.
“For the most part, here in the Pioneer Valley, wind events are covered under your homeowners' insurance,” said Kevin Sears, broker and partner with Sears Real Estate.
For those who rent, rather than own, Sears explained, “renters’ insurance is good for the renter. For the tenant, it protects their personal belongings if there’s a wind event that damages the property that they live at then it would be the owner’s property insurance that would cover the damage to the property.”