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WHEN WIND GETS WEIRD: Why that could matter for downed trees & outages Tuesday

todayJanuary 7, 2024 1

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High Wind Warnings are in effect for much of WNY Tuesday into Tuesday night in anticipation of 60+ mph gusts. In our part of the world, gusts of this caliber often result in sporadic tree damage and power outages. But it’s certainly not an unusual occurrence. So what’s the big deal with this one?

Not all 60 mph wind gusts are the same. Well, they are. It’s the potential impact that isn’t always the same. Most of WNY’s high wind events come from a wind flow with some west to southwest component. These events almost always occur behind a cold front as colder air is advecting into the region. This creates a more favorable environment for stronger winds aloft to mix down to the surface, increasing forecaster confidence and ultimately likelihood a high wind event will indeed occur. That’s not what going to happen later Tuesday.

Our wind direction will be from the southeast. It will also be within the warm sector of this storm system, NOT during the phase when colder air is rushing in (again, our more typical way we generate strong winds in WNY). That’s unusual and it creates some questions on our end surrounding exactly how these stronger winds hundreds to thousands of feet aloft are going to be able to make it to the surface, especially in Rochester. Our chief concern will be higher elevations that inherently are exposed to these stronger winds. Nothing needs to mix down if you’re already up there where winds are howling. Areas traditionally favored for downsloping will also get a boost. Rochester qualifies as neither of those, so we’re going to need some mechanical help to mix those winds down. It could happen, it’s just not as cut and dry as usual.

There are deeper implications to that “weird” wind direction. Many of our trees learn to adapt to our local weather. Recurrent high wind events from the west-southwest will chip away at certain windward branches, lessening the load of what can be lost during a future windstorm. Tree root systems, which are essentially what keeps the tree upright, also undergo mechanical changes to better support the tree. Leeward roots change shape and thicken to better withstand compressional forces. On the windward side, roots evolve to essentially become more flexible. These adaptations serve to allow the tree to be better equipped to withstand the next windstorm.

But that’s largely relevant when the next windstorm features that same wind direction. Because we seldom deal with strong winds with a southeast component, the concern is our trees might not be as equipped to handle a 60 mph gust as they would with a west-southwest flow. On paper, it’s logical to wonder if we could see more broken branches than usual. Snowmelt and incoming rain will further saturate the soil, weakening roots ability to grip. That probably won’t help, either. That raises concerns for power outages.

So, that leaves us with a lot of “ifs” and “maybes”. Meteorologically, because this is not our typical way of generating strong winds, we have reservations about just how gusty we’ll get in Rochester. High terrain, there will be issues with downed trees and outages (enhanced by what we described above). If Rochester is able to manufacture 60 mph gusts, there will most definitely be outages. It’s just a bigger “if” than usual.

​ High Wind Warnings are in effect for much of WNY Tuesday into Tuesday night in anticipation of 60+ mph gusts. In our part of the world, gusts of this caliber often result in sporadic tree damage and power outages. But it’s certainly not an unusual occurrence. So what’s the big deal with this one?

Not all 60 mph wind gusts are the same. Well, they are. It’s the potential impact that isn’t always the same. Most of WNY’s high wind events come from a wind flow with some west to southwest component. These events almost always occur behind a cold front as colder air is advecting into the region. This creates a more favorable environment for stronger winds aloft to mix down to the surface, increasing forecaster confidence and ultimately likelihood a high wind event will indeed occur. That’s not what going to happen later Tuesday.

Our wind direction will be from the southeast. It will also be within the warm sector of this storm system, NOT during the phase when colder air is rushing in (again, our more typical way we generate strong winds in WNY). That’s unusual and it creates some questions on our end surrounding exactly how these stronger winds hundreds to thousands of feet aloft are going to be able to make it to the surface, especially in Rochester. Our chief concern will be higher elevations that inherently are exposed to these stronger winds. Nothing needs to mix down if you’re already up there where winds are howling. Areas traditionally favored for downsloping will also get a boost. Rochester qualifies as neither of those, so we’re going to need some mechanical help to mix those winds down. It could happen, it’s just not as cut and dry as usual.

There are deeper implications to that “weird” wind direction. Many of our trees learn to adapt to our local weather. Recurrent high wind events from the west-southwest will chip away at certain windward branches, lessening the load of what can be lost during a future windstorm. Tree root systems, which are essentially what keeps the tree upright, also undergo mechanical changes to better support the tree. Leeward roots change shape and thicken to better withstand compressional forces. On the windward side, roots evolve to essentially become more flexible. These adaptations serve to allow the tree to be better equipped to withstand the next windstorm.

But that’s largely relevant when the next windstorm features that same wind direction. Because we seldom deal with strong winds with a southeast component, the concern is our trees might not be as equipped to handle a 60 mph gust as they would with a west-southwest flow. On paper, it’s logical to wonder if we could see more broken branches than usual. Snowmelt and incoming rain will further saturate the soil, weakening roots ability to grip. That probably won’t help, either. That raises concerns for power outages.

So, that leaves us with a lot of “ifs” and “maybes”. Meteorologically, because this is not our typical way of generating strong winds, we have reservations about just how gusty we’ll get in Rochester. High terrain, there will be issues with downed trees and outages (enhanced by what we described above). If Rochester is able to manufacture 60 mph gusts, there will most definitely be outages. It’s just a bigger “if” than usual. Read More NewsRochesterFirst  

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