High Winds

High winds blowing trees back and forth.

While high winds are commonly associated with severe thunderstorms, hurricanes and nor'easters, they may also occur as a result of differences in air pressures, such as when a cold front passes across the area.

High winds can cause downed trees and power lines, flying debris and building collapses, which may lead to power outages, transportation disruptions, damage to buildings and vehicles, and serious injury.

To learn more about past weather events, visit the National Climatic Data Center's storm events database.

Know the Terms

  • Wind Advisory: sustained winds 25 to 39 mph and/or gusts to 57 mph. Issuance is normally site specific. However, winds of this magnitude occurring over an area that frequently experiences such winds.
  • High Wind Warning: issued by the National Weather Service when high wind speeds may pose a hazard or is life threatening. The criteria for this warning vary from state to state.
  • Beaufort Wind Scale: simplified scale developed to aid in the estimation of wind speed and typical effects:
    • 25 - 31 mph (strong breeze): large branches in motion; whistling in telephone wires; umbrellas used with difficulty.
    • 32 - 38 mph (near gale): whole trees in motion; resistance felt while walking against the wind.
    • 39 - 46 mph (gale): twigs break off trees; wind impedes walking.
    • 47 - 54 mph (strong gale): slight structural damage to chimneys and slate roofs.
    • 55 - 63 mph (storm): seldom felt inland; trees uprooted; considerable structural damage.
    • 64 - 72 mph (violent storm): very rarely experienced; widespread structural damage; roofing peels off buildings; windows broken; mobile homes overturned.
    • 72 + mph (hurricane): widespread structural damage; roofs torn off homes; weak buildings and mobile homes destroyed; large trees uprooted. See the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale for additional information.

Know What to Do

Take steps to be prepared for high winds and possible power outages:

  • Make sure cell phone batteries are charged, gather supplies, and turn refrigerators and freezers to a colder setting.
  • Always stay clear of downed power lines.
  • If you are affected by an outage, turn off all appliances and keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed to prevent food spoilage.
  • Do not use generators indoors.
  • If you lose power and have a disability or access needs, or use Life Sustaining Equipment (LSE) and need immediate assistance, please dial 911.
  • For more information about what to do during a utility disruptions, visit the Plan for Hazards: Utility Disruptions page.