High winds can be troublesome for travelers on the plains during the winter months. Strong winds can develop when intense low pressure and high pressure systems are in close proximity to one another. The result can be winds gusting over 60 mph at times. High wind by itself can cause difficult traveling when driving light weight or high profile vehicles. When combined with falling snow, strong winds can result in whiteout conditions which often lead to disorientation in near zero visibility.
Jet stream winds aloft are much stronger in the winter than in summer. This is due to the large temperature difference from north to south across the United States during the cold season. When other conditions are right, these strong winds aloft can result in the rapid development of intense pressure differences here on the ground. On the weather map, this often appears as a strong low pressure system. The intense pressure difference will result in a zone of high winds as air attempts to rush from high to low pressure.
Many travelers visiting the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming have also experienced another type of strong wind event, the Chinook wind. Very swift westerly winds aloft, under certain conditions, can bring warm and dry Chinook winds plowing down the slopes of the eastern mountains. These snow-eater winds can generate gusts over 100 mph in extreme cases and produce widespread damage. Wind events between 60 and 80 mph are common near the foothills, so keep this in mind if you plan on traveling to the Colorado Rockies this winter to enjoy the outdoors.
In either case, the dangers from high wind include vehicle accidents resulting from poor visibility, flying debris, collapsed structures, and overturned vehicles. The National Weather Service will issue a high wind warning when these events are anticipated. Strong winds can also bring dangerously low wind chill values when combined with cold arctic air.
If high winds are forecast for your area it is a good idea to bring lightweight belongings indoors, or tie them down so they do not become dangerous missiles. Any downed power lines should not be approached, call the utility company. Traveling on north-south roads near the mountains during high winds can be dangerous. If you drive a lightweight or high profile vehicle, you may want to wait until the high winds subside.