10 of the Windiest Places in the World

Hold on to your hat

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Where is the windiest place on Earth? It depends on how you choose to quantify wind speed. Some of the places with the highest average speeds rarely experience significant gusts, for example. And those spots where winds with three-figure velocities are a common occurrence are often eclipsed when it comes to annual "highest speed" rankings by places that happen to have had a major storm that year.

Though "windy" is defined in different ways, the following places all have a reputation for strong or never-ending breezes. Let’s take a closer look at why they've earned this gusty image and the type of weather you're likely to experience if you visit.

Windiest of all: Wellington, New Zealand

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Wellington has a reputation as the world’s windiest city. The winds known as the Roaring 40s (as in 40-50 degrees south of the equator) rip across the Pacific Ocean and are compressed by the narrow Cook Strait (between the North and South Islands of New Zealand) before hitting Wellington. According to weather data, the city’s breezy reputation is well deserved. The average wind speed is 16.6 mph and the strongest recorded gust topped 150 mph.

Wellington takes full advantage of the often-gale-like conditions. Wind farms provide clean energy to the city, and any emissions from cars or other sources are quickly whipped away, making the air seem unpolluted and fresh. Despite occasional damage to property, people here embrace the blowing weather. There's even a statue, dubbed "Solace in the Wind," on the waterfront (shown above). It depicts a human figure leaning into the breeze.

Windiest peak in the U.S.: Mt. Washington, N.H.

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Mount Washington, a 6,000-foot New Hampshire peak, held the world record for strongest recorded wind gust for most of the 20th century. In 1934, the Mount Washington Observatory clocked the wind at 231 mph. The record was eventually beaten by a typhoon-enhanced gale on Barrow Island, Australia. Nonetheless, Mount Washington remains one of the breeziest places in the world. The average speed of 32 miles per hour makes it, by far, the windiest place in the U.S.

Why is it so windy here? The White Mountains, of which Washington is a member, sit at the intersection of several common storm tracks. The peaks are a barrier for easterly winds and often see a clash between low pressure from the Atlantic and inland high pressure. These factors combine to create hurricane force winds (greater than 75 mph) on the summit of Mount Washington on more than 100 days each year.

Weeks-long blizzards: Antarctica

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Antarctica is home to scientists, penguins and some of the world’s fastest winds. How strong are the gusts at the bottom of the world? It’s hard to tell. Instruments can ice up and stop working, and those that are immune to freezing may blow away in especially harsh polar weather. Blowing snow can trick ultrasonic wind meters as well.

One successful measurement, on Cape Denison, showed that average wind speeds were gale force (greater than 39 miles per hour). That makes this portion of the continent windier than Mount Washington, on average. The weather patterns are affected by cold temperatures and by the topography of Antarctica, which slopes down toward the coastlines. This geography creates strong downslope, or katabatic, winds that can cause blizzard-like conditions for weeks on end.

Windiest small town: Dodge City, Kansas

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Some of America’s windiest places are in the Midwest. Chicago, of course, is known as the Windy City. Despite breezes sometimes blowing off Lake Michigan, most people attribute the nickname to the city’s history of long-winded politicians, not the weather. The data agrees, showing that a number of U.S. towns have stronger drafts. The stiffest can be found in Dodge City.

The average wind speed is just under 14 mph in southwestern Kansas. There are locations in the U.S. with higher averages, but this is the windiest place with a significant population (roughly 27,000 people). That 14 mph is quite consistent. Yes, Kansas is in Tornado Alley, but the winds sweeping down off the Rockies and into the Plains play a bigger role than the occasional twister does in setting that high average. A similar downslope wind pattern affects one of the other windiest towns in America: Amarillo, Texas.

Tip of the Americas: Punta Arenas, Rio Gallegos

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Like New Zealand, Patagonia is affected by the Roaring 40s. The cities of Punta Arenas, Chile and Rio Gallegos, Argentina are in the crosshairs of these muscular gusts. Punta Arenas, the largest city in the world below the 46th Parallel, actually has a moderate climate in terms of temperature thanks to its proximity to the ocean. However, it's so windy here that authorities have strung ropes in between some buildings so that people have something to hold onto during extreme gusts. 80 mph winds are not uncommon, especially during the Southern Hemisphere summer.

The average annual wind speed is "only" 16 mph in Rio Gallegos, but that figure nearly doubles during the summertime. The winds help to keep the average summertime highs below 70 degrees. Known for oil and shipping, this city is the gateway to the Falkland Islands, but it's not really a tourist destination.

Canada's windiest: Saint John's, Newfoundland

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Saint John's is the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador, located on the island of Newfoundland. It's famous, among other things, for the superlatives attached to its weather. One of these is "windiest city in Canada." The average annual wind speed here is 13.6 mph. The wind gusts over 30 mph on an average of 47 days each year. The Newfoundland hub also has the most foggy and cloudy days, and the highest amount of precipitation (both rain and snow) of any major city in Canada.

Wind chills can be an issue in wintertime, but Saint John's actually has a relatively mild climate, with the city pointing out on its website that it has the third most temperate climate in Canada after Vancouver and Victoria.

City of Winds: Baku, Azerbaijan

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Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is known as the City of Winds. This name is apt today, but it was first used in ancient times, when the settlement that is now Baku was referred to as "city of pounding wind" in Persian. There are two sources of Baku’s breezes. Cold winds blow in from the Caspian Sea, sometimes reaching gale force (32 mph or more), and warmer winds move overland into the city.

Despite the prevalence of the colder winds, and the wind chills that can come with them during the wintertime, Baku benefits from its breezy weather patterns. The city has a pollution problem, but the consistent blowing clears the air. There's nothing to impede these gusts because Baku is 92 feet below sea level.

Windiest in Europe: Scotland

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The U.K. is commonly called the windiest country in Europe. Some in Scotland say that their nation alone should hold the distinction because it's windier than the other members of the United Kingdom. Scotland’s top ranking was actually proven by a rather unusual source. A Scottish ice cream company, Mackie’s, ran an ad campaign that said it used wind power to operate its factory, and that plant was located in the windiest place in Europe. The U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority disputed the "windiest location" claim and asked Mackie’s to prove it or pull the ads. The ice cream maker got the relevant data from British scientists and showed the veracity of its claims.

Scotland has average wind speeds of between 15-17 mph. The gusts are strongest in Western Scotland. Some coastal areas have 25 days worth of gale force winds per year. The strongest winds are in the wintertime and are caused by depressions in the Atlantic.

Highest wind ever: Barrow Island, Australia

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Barrow Island currently holds the world record for highest recorded wind speed. The speed of 253 miles per hour was clocked by an unmanned weather station during a severe tropical cyclone. Cyclones are hurricane-like storms that form in the Pacific. Barrow, off northwestern Australia, is relatively windy, with an average annual speed of 12 knots or 13.8 mph. That’s far below the mean wind speed of Mount Washington, the previous record holder.

Barrow Island has an interesting dynamic. It's a major center for oil and natural gas operations and has the most productive oil-extraction site in Australia. On the same island is a "Class A" conservation reserve that is home to spectacled hare wallabies, sea turtles, perentie (Australia’s largest lizard) and other rare and protected species.

Another record: Tornado Alley, Oklahoma

Photo: NOAA/OAR/ERL/National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)

Many of the highest wind speeds ever recorded during tornado activity were in Oklahoma. This includes a 1999 tornado in the suburbs of Oklahoma City that reached a speed of 318 miles per hour. This was measured by doppler radar. It took the Doppler-measured wind-speed record from another tornado that took place in Oklahoma.

Yet another twister near Oklahoma City and the small town of El Rey in 2013 was nearly three miles wide and had winds approaching 300 miles per hour. The World Meteorological Organization does not accept Doppler speed readings as official, which is why Barrow Island holds the record. Obviously, it’s difficult for instruments to survive tornados, let alone take accurate readings.