Being a couple of fairly small islands way out in the Pacific Ocean, New Zealand is subject to an awful lot of winds.
I grew up in Canterbury, in the South Island, where Easterlies were biting, Southerlies bitterly cold, especially in winter if they were coming straight from Antarctica, and Nor’Westers fierce, relentless, warm and draining.
Then I spent a couple of decades in Wellington, at the bottom tip of the North Island, where Southerlies would hammer you and Northerlies would hammer you.
Wellingtonians learn to walk on a lean, sometimes clutching whatever’s around to avoid being literally blown off their feet. They eschew umbrellas which turn inside out in a millisecond. Watch the following YouTube clip to the end to see one unfortunate person blown right to the ground.
But even after decades of living with often fierce winds I still wasn’t terribly clear on what weather forecasting wind terms such as
fresh meant. I had a vague notion it meant chilly, so was very surprised when I recently read the article What is a fresh wind? An explanation of wind speeds and the Beaufort Scale on the MetService Blog:
Sometimes in MetService forecasts, you will see a forecast for “fresh northerlies”. But what exactly does the word ‘fresh’ mean? For many people, the word ‘fresh’ carries connotations of cool or clean air (eg the phrase ‘fresh air’). However, the word ‘fresh’ also has a more technical definition, that comes from the Beaufort Scale…
It turns out
fresh refers to winds between 29 and 38 Kph. At that speed
small trees in leaf begin to sway and flags are fully extended.
The article’s worth reading in full, as it first explains how wind speed is measured, and the difference between mean wind speeds and gusts, then goes on to attach speed values to the words.
In the June 2013 New Zealand winter storm that blew down around 10 trees just near our house and hundreds of trees around Wellington:
The maximum 10 minute average, sustained wind reading, recorded at Wellington airport was 101 km/hour, with individual gusts up to 130–140 km/hour at this location. Winds were equivalent to the strength of a category 1 or 2 hurricane on the Saffir–Simpson hurricane wind scale. Record wave heights of 15 m peak to trough were recorded by a buoy offshore from Baring Head in the Cook Strait. The highest wind gust was 202 km/hr, at Mt Kaukau, Wellington.
So, according to the MetService chart that 101 Kph wind was
storm level while the 140 Kph gusts were
violent are evocative for most folks, and most Kiwis know way too much about
gales. But maybe forecasters could think a little harder about how they routinely communicate information about wind strength to the general public.