A Nasty Wind Blows

If you visit Rocky Mountain National Park and drive the Trail Ridge Road, it is a rare day when you won’t experience a certain aspect of weather: wind. Even on beautiful summer days, the wind can tear across the alpine areas of the park, making an otherwise pleasant day chilly or even cold. Visitors who look around can see the effects of the near-constant wind, from the gnarled trunks of trees near the tree line, to the shapes of rocks at high altitudes.

As bad as the wind can be during summer, though, the wind during winter is an entirely different—and scarier—beast than its relatively tame summer cousin.

During the 1970s and 1980s, scientists curious about the wind at Rocky Mountain National Park began a series of experiments to see just how harsh the wind at the park was.

It turns out, the park is a very windy place.

In terms of sheer speed, the scientists discovered that wind gusts at the park could reach over 200 miles per hour (320 kph). Over the course of 74 winter days at Longs Peak, the most famous mountain in the park, the average wind speed on 13 of those days was over 100 miles per hour (160 kph). That translates to an average wind speed of 100 miles per hour on nearly 20% of the days of the experiment.

Not that the warm days of summer were much better. At the Alpine Visitor Center, at the top of the Trail Ridge Road, the average daily wind speed over the summer was 48 miles per hour (77 kph), with gusts of up to 79 miles per hour (127 kph). Although not as bad as the winter winds, summer is thus not exactly a calm season in the alpine sections of the park.

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