Put Safety First: What to Know During High Wind Events


High winds can occur any time of year and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) wants all Californians to be aware, prepare and stay safe.  

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues a high wind warning when sustained winds of 40 mph or greater or gusts of 58 mph or greater are expected. They alert the public about these events and issue red flag warnings, indicating conditions of elevated wind speeds that raise the risk of wildfires. Look for watches, warnings and advisories for California. 

High wind events can be caused by a variety of factors, including thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornadoes, as well as simple changes in atmospheric pressure.  

During high wind events, Cal OES coordinates responses and provides resources by prepositioning assets across the state to support local county partners. These resources include generators, comfort kits, and other necessities to help keep residents safe.  

Along with state and federal partners, Cal OES monitors wind speeds around the state to identify and mitigate risk factors that could start or expand wildfires. In the case of an intense wildfire, Cal OES opens shelters and distributes essential supplies to affected residents.  

In California, where extreme weather events are common, wind can be a silent instigator of disasters.  

Wind’s Role in Disasters: 

High winds are not just strong gusts of air; they can act as a catalyst, setting in motion a series of events that lead to disasters. Here’s why wind is a serious risk factor: 

  • Wildfire Spread: When strong winds meet dry vegetation, they can carry embers for miles, igniting new fires in their path and rapidly expanding existing ones. This wind-driven wildfire phenomenon has been responsible for some of California’s most destructive blazes. 
  • Power Outages: Wind storms can damage power lines and utility infrastructure, leading to widespread power outages. These outages can disrupt communication, healthcare, transportation and daily life, especially when they coincide with other emergencies. 
  • Structural Damage: High winds can wreak havoc on buildings and structures, causing roof damage, shattering windows, and even toppling trees onto homes and vehicles. The structural damage can lead to injuries and property loss. 
  • Transportation Disruptions: Wind gusts can create hazardous conditions on the road, making it difficult for vehicles to maintain control. This can lead to accidents and road closures, further complicating evacuation efforts during emergencies. 
  • Debris Propagation: High winds can turn everyday objects, such as outdoor furniture, debris, and vegetation, into projectiles. These flying objects pose a significant threat to both people and property.

Dangerous wind speeds can directly impact your home, vehicles or person. 

During a high wind event: 

  • Take cover next to a building or under shelter. 
  • Stay clear of roadways and train tracks, a gust may blow you into danger. 
  • Use handrails when available on outdoor walkways. 
  • Avoid elevated areas such as roofs. 
  • Watch for flying debris, as street signs and tree limbs may become loose during strong winds. 

If near downed power lines: 

  • Never go near downed power lines, since high voltage wires may still be active despite being downed. 
  • Avoid anything that may be touching downed power lines, including tree branches and vehicles. 
  • Report downed power lines to your local utility emergency center and the police. 

Driving during a high wind event: 

  • Keep both hands on the wheel and slow down to a safe driving speed. 
  • Stay a safe distance away from other vehicles as strong gusts may blow others into adjacent lanes. 
  • Turn on your headlights if needed in case of blowing dust, sand, snow or rain. 
  • Be cautious of strong winds suddenly moving your car. 
  • Stay clear of high-profile vehicles or when towing a trailer, as these are more likely to be affected by high winds. 
  • Watch for debris that may suddenly blow onto the roadway. 
  • If winds are severe enough to prevent safe driving, pull over and park away from any trees, power lines or other tall obstacles that may fall onto your car. 

Wind patterns can shift rapidly and unexpectedly, making it challenging for residents and emergency services to anticipate its course accurately. This unpredictability increases the urgency of preparedness and safety measures. By understanding the role wind plays in these scenarios, individuals and communities can better prepare and take proactive steps to mitigate its impact.