When Hurricane Otis made landfall in Acapulco, Mexico, on Wednesday, October 25, as a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 165 mph, gusts of 205 mph (330 km/h or 113.3 m/ (c) was registered with the Port Authority of the Bay of Acapulco. If confirmed, it would be one of the 15 strongest wind gusts ever recorded globally by a ground-based instrument. Sustained winds for hurricanes in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific are typically averaged for one minute, while a gust may last as little as three seconds. Wind gusts in hurricanes are generally assumed to be about 20% stronger than sustained winds, but the strength of gusts can vary widely.
On Monday, officials at Mexico’s National Tide Service (National Tide Service of the Institute of Geophysics) released thread on X discussing data taken by one of their instruments in the right front eyewall of Otis, exactly where one would expect the strongest winds to occur. The instrument recorded sustained winds of 114 mph, with gusts up to 205 mph (183 km/h, gusts up to 330 km/h), at 12:40 CST (06:40 Z) on October 25, 15 min after the National Hurricane Center reported that Otis had made landfall with sustained winds of 160 mph. Sustained hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph (119 kmph) occurred at the station for about 40 minutes. The maximum storm surge of 1.5 feet (45 cm) occurred as low tide approached; the lowest pressure was 963.5 mb.
Before and after photos on the site showed that the measurement was made from a tower sonic anemometer. However, the tower appeared to be significantly lower than the 10-meter standard height used to measure the wind—perhaps only half that height—so the measured winds would have been slowed by surface friction. The exposure of the site looks good: The tower was located near the end of the quay, with no large buildings or obstructions obstructing the flow. The sonic anemometers at the site used sound waves to make the measurement, and this type of measurement can be affected by heavy rain.
Top 15 highest recorded wind gusts
Measuring extreme wind gusts in the 200 mph range from ground towers is extremely difficult. High winds usually destroy equipment or disable communications, and usually bring intense precipitation and flying debris that can affect the measurement. There are only about 15 measurements of wind gusts above 190 mph that are not clearly in error; many of these measurements have limited documentation and should be viewed with considerable skepticism. Even well-documented measurements of extreme wind gusts should be viewed with some skepticism. This is even true of the official world record holder: a gust of 253 mph (113.2 m/s) recorded in Typhoon Olivia on April 4, 1996, on Barrow Island, Australia. This measurement was subjected to a detailed study by a committee of the World Meteorological Organization, which found it valid. But in a paper presented in 2013 at the 16th Australasian Wind Engineering Society Workshop, JD Holmes and L. Noicos argued that the anemometer mast used would probably bend in a wind gust above 172 mph (77 m/s) and that the actual peak wind gust during the typhoon was only 150 mph (67 m/s) – more than 100 mph below the official reading.
It is also worth noting that winds on top of hills or mountains will often be significantly higher than those measured on flat terrain. A series of papers published in the journal Boundary-Layer Meteorology in the mid-1980s observed an average wind acceleration of the order of 90% (almost doubling) on the Askervein hill ridge in Scotland compared to the average wind speed, measured simultaneously at a reference station located on flat terrain upstream of the hill. Askervain Hill is a relatively low-sloping topographic feature that rises only 260 feet (116 meters) above the surrounding terrain. Thanks to Craig Miller at the University of Western Ontario for this insight.
With these warnings in mind, above is a list of the top 15 official and unofficial wind gusts recorded around the world. The list comes courtesy of similar lists compiled by Jim Young at X in October 2023, and by Chris Burt in a 2020 wunderground.com blog post, “Highest Wind Speed Measured by an Anemometer on Earth.” Note that Taiwan’s Lanyu Island holds three of the top spots on this list; measurements at this location are made on top of a hill 325 meters (1,066 ft) above sea level, which is likely experiencing wind acceleration as described above – as are all measurements made on the various mountains that appear in the list of top 15. Strikingly, two of the 15 largest wind gusts in world history (marked in red) were measured last month — in Taiwan on October 4 during Typhoon Koinu and in Acapulco on October 25 during Hurricane Otis.
Bob Henson contributed to this postTand thanks to Bruce Harper for his helpful suggestions.
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