So here we are again, in that exciting season where reporters stand out in the hurricane winds and driving rain and shout at us about how bad the weather is.
Which naturally leads to the question (posed by my stepson):
How strong would the wind have to be to blow the reporter away?
Of course the answer would depend on your size and weight. Big heavy things can take more wind than little fluffy things:
To avoid being bogged down in the math of it all we’ll just assume the nebulous “average size adult” and leave it at that. But first, a bit about wind. Wind speed is sometimes assigned a number (1-12) on the Beaufort Scale, a measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land. The Beaufort scale, however, is usually described in terms of how it affects things, not people.
For instance, a Beaufort force of 3 is considered to be a “gentle breeze” of 8-12 mph that results in “leaves and small twigs in constant motion. Wind blows up dry leaves from the ground. Flags are extended out.” Sea conditions at Force 3 include the presence of large wavelets, crests begin to break; scattered whitecaps.
A Force 8 is the proverbial “Gale Force” wind of 39-46 mph. At this speed, wind can cause cars to veer off the road, will break twigs and small branches and “generally impede walking.” Now that’s what we’re looking for –the effects on people trying to stand or walk.
In a wind tunnel, the effects of wind speed are pretty straightforward. Here’s AP reporter Jerry Bodlander standing in the University of Maryland wind tunnel. He works his way up to 100 mile an hour winds, equivalent to a category two hurricane:
But the world is not a wind tunnel. Real wind is gusty, surfaces are uneven and slippery, and not all reporters wear safety harnesses or sensible shoes. Wind has many characteristics: speed, direction, turbulence, frequency and strength of gusts, and temperature, to name a few. According to this paper by Dr. Johnny T. S. Yu, the two characteristics that primarily affect a standing or walking human are the mean wind speed and degree of turbulence.
“…the wind effect on people will be more severe under a wind with a larger fluctuation part than under a wind with a smaller fluctuation part, even though their gust speeds are identical.”
Yu presents the table below (taken from “Acceptable wind speeds in towns” A.D. Penwarden, 1973) showing the effects of gust wind speed on people.
(I do love that “Hair disarranged” at Force 4)
So wind at 39 to 46 mph will slow you down and it won’t take much of a gust or bit of turbulence to knock you off balance. By the time the wind reaches strong gale force (47 to 54 mph), it’ll knock you down if you don’t brace yourself. Penwarden’s chart doesn’t even venture into hurricane force winds which are over 75 mph. The chances of staying upright in those kinds of winds are slim.
But that doesn’t slow down intrepid reporters. Take a look at NBC’s Michelle Kosinski reporting on Hurricane Gustav from Gulfport Mississippi in 2008. The news desk anchor speaking to Michelle estimates the wind at about 50-60 mph:
Upping the game a little, here’s Jeff Morrow being forced to his knees by Hurricane Wilma as he tries to report from Miami in October 2005. He reports that the winds are “blowing over hurricane force..”
And finally, here is reporter Keely Chalmers at Crown Point Gorge, Oregon in 2007. She is attempting to report while standing in sustained winds of 60-70 mph with gusts measuring 100 mph. And, just to up the stakes, she is doing on a set of steps .. in heels.
You go girl!
So that’s what it takes to blow away a reporter. Now I feel a song coming on.