- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003

Weather geeks are calling it a tight pressure gradient, but workers setting up for the Pageant of Peace in President’s Park yesterday called the high winds a pain.

Whatever the lingo, the gusty winds — some as high as 35 miles per hour — had many joggers fighting to keep their pace, flags waving wildly and the National Weather Service issuing a warning for small planes flying into the area.

“The wind doesn’t help much,” Mauricio Hernandez said as his crew righted fallen chairs and steadied tents that flapped in the breeze in President’s Park.

The average wind speed yesterday was between 15 mph and 25 mph, according to Steve Rogowski, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sterling, Va. The wind is a product of the cold front moving in, and lower temperatures should be expected, he said.

“It’s very common to have gusty fronts move through the area,” said Neal DiPasquale, also a forecaster with the weather service. He said the average wind speed in the past month was 7.9 mph.

But the past few weeks have seemed windier than usual for many, including Jim Hodges, a kite enthusiast.

“It’s unusual for this time of year, and seems more like February and March. It’s a lot windier than I’d expect,” Mr. Hodges said.

Mr. DiPasquale said 2002, 2001 and 2000 statistics were not available, adding that the average wind speed for November in the late 1990s was higher than the latest figures.

In November 1999, the average speed was 8.7 mph, compared with 8 mph in 1998, 8.8 mph in 1997 and 9.4 in 1996, according to the statistics compiled by the National Weather Service from information collected at the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

In larger storms such as the one that hit the area in mid-November, the average wind speed reaches about 35 mph, with gusts at 55 mph and faster, according to the weather service.

Technically, the blustery winds are caused by a collision of two weather systems, a high pressure system out of St. Louis and a low pressure system in eastern Canada, Mr. Rogowski said.

“This is what we call a tight pressure gradient,” he said. “It’s quite normal for this time of year.”

The winds will let up a bit today as the temperature drops, Mr. Rogowski said, but those venturing outdoors can expect more blasts of cold wind.

“It’s more of a nuisance than anything,” he said.

It was more than just a bad hair day for Mr. Hernandez and other workers struggling to ready the park for the Pageant of Peace tree-lighting ceremony, to be held Thursday.

Workers laughed as a strong gust toppled more than 40 chairs lined up for the ceremony like a stack of dominoes — for at least the third time in the day.

“We’ve had to go back a couple of times and straighten these up. I don’t know how many times we’ll have to do it again,” Mr. Hernandez told The Washington Times. Mr. Hernandez, a worker with Event Rentals, said his crew must keep the chairs out through Thursday and keep righting the fallen chairs, otherwise they would get behind schedule for the nationally televised event.

Edgar Ramirez said the workers had to steady the tents set up in the park even as they shivered in the draft.

The tent to be used by President Bush won’t be set up until a few hours before the event, Mr. Hernandez said.

National Park Ranger Chief of Maintenance Sean Kennealy said the crew wasn’t worried that the winds would bring down the 40-foot-high Christmas tree, to be lit with fanfare at 5 p.m. on Thursday.

The tree didn’t even teeter as the gusts whipped around nearby tents and miniature trees representing each state in the country. Mr. Kennealy said the tree had internal support.

Forecasters said the winds are typical for late November and early December, and D.C. officials said the gusts had caused no serious problems. But those who shielded their eyes from blowing dust and clasped their coats tightly on the Mall yesterday felt differently.

The winds caused little damage yesterday, compared with the nearly 70 mph gusts last month that seriously injured two persons and ripped roofs off buildings.

The high winds might seem ideal for kite flyers, but sometimes the gusts create trouble, said Mr. Hodges, president of kite-flying organization Wings over Washington.

“It’s tough to fly,” Mr. Hodges said. “When it’s really gusty it’s not as much fun.”

Some tourists chuckled at the locals cowering from the blustery day.

Minnesota residents Rob and Jane King, visiting the District yesterday, weren’t bothered by the high winds, though the weather had diverted their flight from Reagan Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport.

“It’s not too windy for us,” Mr. King said.

But the winds had T-shirt vendors rehanging clothes that had blown off hooks.

Others working out at the park had an easier time.

“It’s been a great day for us,” said Marcus Harton, an employee with the Newseum. “Anything short of rain is a good day.”

Few braved the waters yesterday, as the cold prevented sailing enthusiasts from taking advantage of the strong breeze.

“Anyone out on the water is in for a rough ride,” said George Stevens, president of the Belle Haven Marina in Alexandria.

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