Despite what you might think, it has not been getting windier in Spokane. It might even be the opposite!

Downed trees in Comstock Park

Tree damage in Spokane’s Comstock Park , January, 2021

I’ve noticed a big difference between people’s memories of the weather and what the data shows.  I experience the same thing!  Who doesn’t remember snow piled up to the roof every winter when they were kids?  The snow total records, that’s who.  Every spring, I get a windfall of email from viewers wondering “why is it so windy this year?”  I do a quick check of the average wind speed for Spokane against the daily wind observations, and it’s usually right in the ballpark of what we would consider “normal.”  Here’s just one example from this week from Paula:

Hello Kris,

I have a quick question.   Is high wind a new normal around here?  Lived here my whole life and have never experienced so many high wind incidents. Thank you so much and have a great day.

The quick answer for Paula is “no, it hasn’t been windier than normal,” but I thought Paula deserved a more thorough explanation.  So, I went to my weather sensei: Ron Miller, the Meteorologist in Charge at the Spokane National Weather Service.  He’s brilliant, and when you want to know EVERYTHING there is to know about a subject, he’s the person to ask.
Let’s start with the average wind speed.  Ron sent along this graph of the daily average wind speed at Spokane International Airport.  The graph starts in 1984, as that was the first year they started being able to record the average wind speed over the entire 24 hour day.   “As you can see, there were some windy years in the late 80s, and if anything, there’s been a slight decline in average wind speed,” Ron said.
Daily Average Wind Speed

Courtesy Spokane National Weather Service

This next graph only looks at the September-April time frame.  We’ll call that “winter wind” for the purposes of this story.  “The 1988-89 winter is the windiest, but there are several years that are windier than our current winter,” Ron said.
Average Daily Wind Speed Sept-April

Courtesy Spokane National Weather Service

Next, let’s look at the peak wind gusts.  We have peak wind gust data back to 1965, however, the way wind is measured has changed over that time.  The following two graphs show the number of days each year with peak gusts higher than 50 or 55 mph.  “Again, no real great trend here either” Ron said.  “This data set goes back farther than the average wind data set, so it shows some very windy years in 1971 and 72.”

Days of peak wind gusts over 50 mph

Courtesy Spokane National Weather Service

Days of Peak Wind Gusts over 55 mph

Courtesy Spokane National Weather Service

Despite the graphs and numbers, this is still a simplified answer to a complex question.  Perhaps the winds are the same, but as our area has grown and become more developed, we are experiencing them differently.  Also, these numbers only consider wind at the official reporting site, Spokane International Airport.  One more thing that is important to point out: it is still very unusual, and frankly and little traumatic,  that we had two 70+mph events just a little over five years apart.  It remains to be seen if that’s just a coincidence, or a trend.  Hopefully, I won’t have to follow-up on those numbers.