Are wind speeds increasing across central Montana?

Are wind speeds increasing across central Montana?
Posted at 5:54 PM, Feb 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-10 20:00:47-05

GREAT FALLS — Wind is a daily part of life, especially for locations due east of the Rockies, but the many high wind events throughout the last year have many wondering whether the overall wind has increased across the area.

The National Weather Service offices in Great Falls and Glasgow issue high wind alerts for the area.

  • High Wind Watch meaning high winds are expected in the next 24 to 72 hours.
  • High Wind Warning meaning high winds are imminent, likely within the next 12 hours.

The criteria for high winds vary depending on location. Throughout central Montana, sustained winds of greater than 40 miles per hour for more than an hour OR sporadic gusts over 58 mph are required. As you can imagine, the values are a bit higher for the Rocky Mountain Front — sustained winds greater than 50 mph OR sporadic gusts over 70 mph are required. This is higher than most of the rest of the United States.

Residents of central Montana have received many of these high wind alerts, particularly throughout fall and winter.

Looking at wind speed data provided by NOAA for 2021, it is clear there has been an increase in high wind days throughout central Montana - but not necessarily an increase in overall wind speeds.

>20mph Sustained Wind DaysAverage>60mph Wind Gust daysRank
Great Falls 3226115
Helena 3166
Cut Bank6354261
Bozeman 1051

Overall, wind was above average during 2021 in central Montana. Generally, about a quarter to three-tenths of a mile per hour above average. This is certainly noticeable but not indicative of an overall increase in wind.

However, the amount of high wind events has undoubtedly increased. Many areas, including Cut Bank, Bozeman, and Dillon, recorded the most 60 mph or greater wind gust days on record with many other areas in their respective top 10.

There are other places in the country that see greater wind throughout the year than central Montana. However, when looking at cities with more than 50,000 people — Great Falls takes the #8 spot, coming in with an average annual wind speed of 11.4 mph as of 2020.

Windiest cities in the U.S.
Windiest cities in the U.S.