Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Did it "blow like snot" yesterday?

CDC Public Health Image Library/Wikipedia Commons
As posted by Wendy yesterday, a peak gust of 96 mph was observed at Alta-Mount Baldy yesterday afternoon and appears to be the big winner in yesterday's storm.  A quick look at MesoWest reveals that 84 stations reported at least one gust in excess of 50 mph including:

  • Alta-Mt. Baldy - 96 mph
  • Logan Summit - 78 mph
  • Deer Valley Mt. Baldy - 75 mph
  • Powder Mountain - 75 mph
  • Alta-Collins - 73 mph
  • Ogden Peak - 71 mph
  • UT30 - 65 mph (appears to be highest gust at lowland station)
  • Curlew Junction - 63 mph
  • Utah Test and Training Range (TTU) - 61 mph
  • University of Utah - 57 mph

Thus, there is little doubt that it "blew like snot" yesterday.  However, in saying that, I'm speaking metaphorically and not scientifically.  In reality, there are wide-ranging estimates for the speed of snot, with Mythbusters producing a humorous 35-40 mph estimate. And, like the speed of snot, wind speed and gust reports are also subject to some uncertainty.  

Amongst the concerns are: (1) instrumentation accuracy/error, (2) averaging frequency and duration, and (3) representativeness error.  These issues become particularly important when cross-comparing across stations that have different sensors, processing algorithms, and exposures.  

For example, can we say with absolute certainty that Alta-Mt. Baldy had a stronger gust yesterday than Logan Summit?  The answer is no.  With some mental gymnastics, we could estimate how likely it was that Alta-Mt. Baldy had a stronger gust, but that is the best we can do.  

The bottom line is it is good to remember that "all observations are bad, but some are useful."

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