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Heather’s Weather Whys: why the wind is at its worst in January

Buffalo is a windy place, especially in the winter. Why is the cold season, and in particular the month of January, so breezy? Watch this week’s episode to find out.
Credit: WGRZ


Chicago may have the official title of “Windy City,” but there are plenty of other Great Lakes cities that would argue they deserve the same designation.

Buffalo is one of them. Over 30 days in 2019 recorded a wind gust of at least 40 mph.

By the way, Chicago’s famous nickname probably has little to do with weather conditions. Many surmise it’s more likely in reference to political history or the World’s Fair in in the early 1900s. 

If you were to average out the wind speed every single day for each month of the year, you’d see that January is the windiest month for Buffalo. An average wind speed of 13.9 mph may not sound like much, but remember that’s an average.

Last year, the month of January had 15 days with a peak wind of at least 25 mph. That’s a bunch of bad hair days.

So why do the colder months tend to be more blustery? There are a couple of things to factor in. 

The first is the difference in large scale weather patterns between the cold season and the warm season. Believe it or not, the cold season brings more temperature variability across the Northern Hemisphere compared to the warm season. Bigger temperature differences mean bigger pressure differences and a strong jet stream. All of that factors into stronger, more frequent storm systems. More storms typically equates to more windy days and more intense winds on those windy days. 

Another factor is friction, which always acts to slow down the wind. Moving air experiences friction as it blows around buildings and rough terrain. Trees and open water also create surfaces for friction, but less so in the winter because most trees in the area have lost their leaves and large water bodies like Lake Erie tend to be smoothed over with ice.

New episodes of Heather’s Weather Whys are posted to the WGRZ YouTube channel every Wednesday evening. You can also watch on Thursdays at 5:30 on Channel 2 News.

If you have a weather question for Heather to answer, send it to her at heather.waldman@wgrz.com or connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

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