As Hurricane Sandy pummels the East Coast of the U.S., there is much discussion of wind speed. The forecast is for 90 mile per hour winds.
Wind speed has long been of interest and concern to mariners, since the resulting wave action can cause havoc at sea. Before the age of technology, and instruments capable of registering exact wind velocities, sea-going folk shared a sense of the signs of wind speed, such as wave height, whitecaps, spray, foam and spindrifts. In 1805, the Englishman Sir Francis Beaufort developed a scale. It can be found at the following NOAA site: www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/beaufort.html.
According to the scale, which is still used by mariners, whitecaps develop at 7-10 knots of wind speed. Spray starts to appear at 17-21 knots. White foam streaks off breakers at 29-33 knots, which is defined as a near gale.
At the level of a hurricane, which is over 64 knots (75 m.p.h.) of wind speed, the Beaufort Scale speaks of: "Air filled with foam, waves over 45 feet, sea completely white with driving spray, visibility greatly reduced."
If winds over the North Atlantic today are anywhere near 90 m.p.h., the ocean will be a maelstrom. There is much talk of damage ashore, but we must extend our hopes and prayers to those at sea who have been unable to find safe refuge. Not to mention those in what have traditionally been safe refuges but will be overcome by the unprecedented force of a storm which defies categorization under the Beaufort Scale or any other.