Breezy, gusty and windy; what’s the difference?

Weather Blog

ROCHESTER, NY (WROC) — It’s been a breezy, even windy day across western New York this afternoon. We started the day with winds blowing around 10-13 mph in spots, and into the afternoon we’ve seen winds increase from 15 to 20 mph with gusts up to 30! I know Rochester and western NY are known for their strong winds off of the Great Lakes, but we’re now starting to get into the time of year where strong breezes and wind events could make up a lot of our forecast discussions. So I ask you this, what’s the difference between breezy, windy, and gusty? I took a dive into the different ways we can measure and describe wind. Here’s what I found:  

Photo courtesy: NWS

The National Weather Service (NWS) will officially determine the weather as BREEZY when winds are sustained at 15 mph. They consider it to be WINDY once winds reach 20 mph or more.

Here is the definition of a wind gust by the NWS: “…a sudden, brief increase in speed of the wind. According to U.S. weather observing practice, gusts are reported when the peak wind speed reaches at least 16 knots and the variation in wind speed between the peaks and lulls is at least 9 knots. The duration of a gust is usually less than 20 seconds.”

In the video above, I briefly mention how a sustained wind of 12-14 mph can easily be considered just as breezy if not the same. As long as I can feel the wind, could I consider that to be breezy? According to the Beaufort Wind Scale, you can!

When measuring wind, it can be important to have a cutoff threshold not only for marine goers, but for forecasters as well. In order to issue certain wind criteria, there must be a number that sets off the “alarm” right?

For example, a wind advisory is issued when there are sustained winds of 31 – 39 mph for 1 hour or more at a time, and/or for wind gusts of 46 – 57 mph for any duration. This can be important to let boaters know when the winds could create issues for them while out on the water.

Here is a chart comparing wind speeds to visual clues and effects:

Photo courtesy: NWS

Based on this chart, a light breeze could be considered anywhere from 4 to about 12 mph. This corresponds better with the real-feel experience of wind, and gives it a bit more wiggle room to be considered a noticeable “breeze”.

The Beaufort Wind Scale is a table that describes the force of wind on a scale of 0 to 12. The scale does go all the way to 17, but that only applies to tropical typhoons out in the Pacific. The scale was named after Sir Francis Beaufort of the British Royal Navy in 1805. The intent was to describe the wind while going to war on the sea, and can be used to describe the wind without wind instruments. Neat right? Check it out in the table below:

Photo courtesy: NOAA

Measuring the feel and effects of wind can be both arbitrary and exact when needed to be. Whether it’s a gentle breeze on a warm day, or high winds rolling across Lake Ontario that could create large waves and problems for boaters. In this case the threshold helps with issuing advisories to try and protect life and property, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be used when simply describing the way the wind feels to you when it’s light, and just right!

~Meteorologist Christine Gregory

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