10 Windiest Cities In The US: Is Chicago The Windy City?
It is well-known that Chicago is called ‘The Windy City’.
The third most populous city in the United States has gained a reputation for being culturally different from most other parts of America, and even the weather appears unique to Chicago.
However, is Chicago actually the windiest US city?
After all, the United States is one of the largest countries in the world – sitting within the top five – and it seems like there are a few places that may have more winds than Chicago.
As such, we have decided to look at Chicago more closely, as well as other cities in the United States, and determine the top 10 windiest cities, including Chicago’s own place on that list.
Will it be at the top? The bottom? Or not even on the list?
DETERMINING THE WINDIEST US CITY
To determine the windiest city, we have to look at wind metrics, and that causes some issues.
The biggest issue is which of the two main metrics to use: average wind speed or the number of days that a city is windy.
Here’s the rub, if we use the average wind speed it will tell us how windy it can be when it is actually windy, but using the number of days a city is windy tells us how consistently it has wind blowing through the city.
Impact vs consistency is basically what it comes down to, and that can cause some problems, as the lists for the top ten of each of these are actually different.
As such, we are going to compare the two to get a better idea of which cities are the windiest.
However, we would like to point out that these cities are all going to be mainland America – in the lower 48 – since if we included Alaska, all the cities would be from Alaska.
If you want to know the windiest place in Alaska, it is Cold Bay, with average wind speeds of 16.2 miles per hour and wind events most days of the year.
THE CITIES WITH THE HIGHEST AVERAGE WIND SPEED IN THE US
- Boston, Massachusetts – 12.3 mph / 19.8 km/h.
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – 12.2 mph / 19.6 km/h.
- Buffalo, New York – 11.8 mph / 19.0 km/h.
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin – 11.5 mph / 18.5 km/h.
- Dallas, Texas – 10.7 mph / 17.2 km/h.
- Kansas City, Missouri – 10.6 mph / 17.1 km/h.
- San Francisco, California – 10.6 mph / 17.1 km/h.
- Cleveland, Ohio – 10.5 mph / 16.9 km/h.
- Minneapolis, Minnesota – 10.5 mph / 16.9 km/h.
- Virginia Beach, Virginia – 10.5 mph / 16.9 km/h.
As you can see, Chicago does not feature on this list at all.
This is because the average wind speed in Chicago is around 10.3 mph or 16.6 km/h, which is still in the top 20 list of cities (it sits at number 12) with in the highest average wind speed in the US, but it doesn’t quite reach the top 10.
It is, in fact, Boston that tops the list, followed closely by Oklahoma.
This isn’t too surprising when you take the top 20 and 30 into consideration, as it shows that the average wind speed is very high in the North-eastern seaboard, and Massachusetts especially has a high average wind speed.
The pattern of stronger than average winds is clearly defined by a proximity to the ocean or a large body of water.
Even though there are some outliers, like Oklahoma City, the majority of cities with a higher than average wind speed are near to a large body of water.
This is because water vapor can change air pressure, causing air to rise and fall, which in turn affects wind and a wind’s speed.
THE CITIES WITH THE MOST WIND EVENTS IN THE US PER YEAR
- Jackson, Mississippi – 153 wind events.
- Springfield, Missouri – 128 wind events.
- Boston, Massachusetts – 121 wind events.
- Cambridge, Massachusetts – 116 wind events.
- High Point, North Carolina – 110 wind events.
- Shreveport, Louisiana – 108 wind events.
- Gainesville, Florida – 106 wind events.
- Nashville, Tennessee – 102 wind events.
- Columbia, South Carolina – 101 wind events.
- Boulder, Colorado – 79 wind events.
A much more different list than the last one with several interesting pieces of information showing.
One thing that this list shows is that the entire eastern seaboard is consistently windier than the western one, with Boulder in Colorado being the only western city appearing on the list.
Another thing to note is that every single city is different on this list, bar one (which we will get to in a moment), which tells us that despite some of the cities before having higher wind speeds, they may not experience them on a regular basis.
The city that experiences the most wind events per year in the lower 48 is Jackson, Mississippi, with a whopping 153 wind events occurring every year.
This is not too surprising when you realize that Jackson is on the coast of the Caribbean Sea and that hurricanes are a regular occurrence in that region.
The only city to appear on both lists is that of Boston, which has the highest average wind speed and the third-highest number of wind events per year in the city.
Once again, Chicago does not feature in the top ten, but does make it into the top 20.
THE CONCLUSION OF THIS DATA – IS CHICAGO ‘THE WINDY CITY’?
Unfortunately, Chicago calling itself ‘The Windy City’ is a bit of a misnomer.
When you look at the data for the mainland United States or the lower 48, Chicago isn’t even in the top ten for either average wind speed or number of weather events per year that occur to it.
If we are solely with the lower 48, then Boston should really be named the windy city as it is not only the only city to appear on both lists, but it appears on the top of one and as the third place finisher on the other.
If we are going by the US overall, then as we said before, Cold Bay in Alaska would take first place hands down – and the rest of the list would probably be made up of just Alaskan cities.
WHY IS MASSACHUSETTS SO WINDY?
Massachusetts occupies a unique position within the United States, in that it extends into the North Atlantic and is the most exposed state to the ocean’s weather.
Although Maine and New Hampshire are further north and Maine is further west, they are sheltered from the weather by the Canadian province of Nova Scotia – which takes the brunt of the storms for them.
However, Massachusetts is not and in fact it shelters other states, like Rhode Island and Connecticut, from the ocean’s brutal winds.
The coastal storms that hit the US during the winter and spring will almost always hit Massachusetts first, with Cape Cod taking the biggest hits.
Their winds can buffet the towns along the coast with winds of more than 60 miles an hour.
The fluctuating temperatures of the ocean and the land, as well as the constantly changing air pressure of the region, means that storms are very frequent in this part of the world, helping to make winds pick up frequently.
IS CHICAGO EVEN THAT WINDY?
Chicago is actually quite windy, although it may not seem like it from these lists.
If these were top 20 lists then Chicago would appear on both of them and since only Boston does that as well, then Chicago could be seen as windy.
The reason why Chicago is so windy is the strong temperature disparity between the land and the water it is near.
Chicago sits on Lake Michigan, one of the largest inland bodies in the world and the largest lake in the world entirely within one country.
As such, the water in Lake Michigan remains pretty cold most of the time, due to its large size.
However, Chicago can get very cold in winter and quite hot in summer on the land.
This temperature disparity means that air rises quickly over Chicago and cools rapidly over the lake.
This causes a high pressure area over the land to become a low pressure area over the water, which in turn is the exact cause of wind.
As such, blustery gales sweep through the city regularly.
WHY IS CHICAGO CALLED ‘THE WINDY CITY’?
It is named ‘The Windy City’ for two reasons.
The first is the obvious one, in that Chicago is quite a windy city and the residents who moved there noticed this, with the name sticking over time.
The other potential reason for Chicago being named ‘The Windy City’ is one that seems more like a jab at the city’s residents.
The initial nickname probably came from the weather, but it might have stuck because rival cities started to use it to refer to the city’s boisterous and gregarious residents.
During the 19th century, when you described someone as ‘windy’ it was a slang term to describe them as ‘full of hot air’.
While it could be for either reason, it is probably a combination of both – a genuinely windy city and people poking fun – but the modern description of the city is definitely to describe the wind.
Chicago is named ‘The Windy City’ and while it is pretty windy, it is certainly not the windiest city in the US. In the whole of America, Cold Bay is the windiest and in the lower 48 Boston is the windiest.
However, Chicago definitely sits in the top 20 and nobody is going to try and claim the title just yet.