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High wind warnings mysteriously up in the Great Smoky Mountains. What’s causing it?

Time exposure of starry sky over Clingmans Dome Observation Tower in Great Smoky Mountains, where high wind warnings are poised to set a record.
Time exposure of starry sky over Clingmans Dome Observation Tower in Great Smoky Mountains, where high wind warnings are poised to set a record. National Park Service photo

The number of high wind warnings and watches in the Great Smoky Mountains appear to be on the rise, based on 14 years of data released by the National Park Service.

In just the first three months of this year, five high wind watches were issued for sustained winds of 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph.

One more would set a record, based on the data.

“It sure has been a windy year so far!” said the park’s Facebook post.

Only four such watches were issued in all of 2018, and three in all of 2017, according to a park service Facebook post.

In the past 14 years, only 2014 had as many high wind watches as this year, but that was spread over 12 months, according to the National Park Service.

Other wind indicators, including wind advisories (16 in three months) and warnings (six in three months), are also poised to set records, data shows.

The data comes just a month after Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina set a new wind gust record of 121 mph gust on Feb. 13, only to break it on Feb. 25 with a 124 mph gust.

Tropical Storm Florence will likely bring rains, floods and tropical storm-force winds to Charlotte this weekend, and that could cause flooding, the National Weather Service warns. Residents can also expect power outages.

Comments on the National Park Service post revealed people in the region have felt a difference in the winds.

“They are becoming more frequent!” Facebook commenter Mary Anne Rudolph said of the high wind warnings. “We have had some terrifying nights in Cosby during recent high winds.”

“I can second that,” posted Andy Warshaw, who also lives in Crosby, Tennessee. “I always go out to see if all the shingles are still attached to the house, check for downed trees and then start picking up wagons full of debris in the yard.”

The National Park Service offered no explanation with the data.

However, multiple studies have suggested climate change is causing stronger winds.

Inside Climate News reported last fall that a new study linked the buildup of greenhouse gas emissions with disruptions in the jet stream, “a powerful river of winds that steers weather systems in the Northern Hemisphere.”

“The findings suggest that summers like 2018, when the jet stream drove extreme weather on an unprecedented scale across the Northern Hemisphere, will be 50 percent more frequent by the end of the century if emissions... continue at a high rate,” said the site.

The Irmo Fire District posted these videos of flash flooding from Tropical Storm Michael on Thursday. The storm brought heavy rainfall and high wind gusts to the Carolinas.

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