Over the past 50 years, weather, climate, and water-related disasters have surged fivefold ¹, incurring daily losses of over 200 million U.S. dollars.
But beyond these statistics lies a question that tugs at the curious and the brave: Where on Earth is the worst weather, and why?
From hurricanes that rewrite coastlines to wildfires that dance with a ferocity that defies imagination, our planet hosts an array of extreme weather conditions.
Arid Extremes: Atacama Desert & Death Valley
In the heart of the Atacama Desert, a 600-mile stretch between Peru and northern Chile lies a realm so devoid of rain it seems otherworldly. Some areas haven’t felt a raindrop in its hyper-arid core for centuries.
The culprit? A global circulation pattern known as the Hadley cell and a double rain shadow effect leave this land in a meteorological void where conditions for rainfall are nearly nonexistent.
Death Valley’s claim ² to fame is its scorching heat. As one of the driest places on Earth, it’s also the hottest, with ground temperatures soaring over 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Its low elevation, arid landscape, and dark soil create a natural oven effect, making it a land of extremes and a testament to the relentless power of the sun.
Wind’s Fury: Wellington & Antarctica
Wellington, New Zealand ³, known as “Windy Welly,” is the world’s windiest city, with an average wind speed surpassing 16 mph. This is primarily due to its unique geographical position at the Cook Strait, which acts as a natural wind tunnel, amplifying the winds through the Venturi effect.
The city’s rugged landscape further contributes to local variations in wind strength and direction, making it a place where the air is always in motion. However, the true monarch of wind resides in the East Antarctic Plateau, where the katabatic winds ⁴ reign supreme.
Born from the cold, dense air sinking from the high Polar Plateau, these winds are a force of nature, channeling through the continent’s rugged terrain and accelerating to astonishing speeds.
In places like Cape Denison, known as the windiest ⁴ spot in Antarctica, it’s not uncommon for these winds to reach 200 mph.
This intense phenomenon occurs due to a temperature inversion over the ice sheet, where the air temperature rises with altitude, creating conditions for these relentless, gravity-driven winds that can turn serene landscapes into maelstroms of icy air.
Torrential Reign: Mawsynram & Cherrapunji
In northeast India, the villages of Mawsynram and Cherrapunji ⁵ face the opposite of aridity: an overwhelming abundance of rain.
Positioned on the windward side of the Khasi Hills, these villages are the battlegrounds for monsoon clouds, resulting in orographic lift and rainfall that nowhere else on Earth can rival.
Cherrapunji once received an astonishing 1,042 inches of rain over 12 months ⁵, showcasing the incredible capacity of our atmosphere to deliver life-giving water in abundance.
The World’s Worst Weather: Mount Washington
Yet, if there’s a place encapsulating the most extreme weather on Earth, it’s Mount Washington, New Hampshire ⁶. Don’t let its modest height fool you; this mountain is notorious among meteorologists and weather enthusiasts.
With hurricane-force winds, bone-chilling temperatures, and heavy precipitation, Mount Washington’s unique topography and geographical position make it a vortex of meteorological fury.
Here, the highest wind speed ever observed by humans was recorded: a staggering 231 miles per hour ⁶.
A Planet of Extremes
These places challenge our understanding of what’s possible and remind us of nature’s immense power.
Whether it’s the arid stretches of the Atacama, the scorching basin of Death Valley, the howling winds of Antarctica, the torrential rains of Mawsynram, or the fierce conditions atop Mount Washington, each extreme tells a story of Earth’s dynamic and ever-changing atmosphere.
As we continue to witness and study these extremes, we gain a deeper appreciation for the planet we call home and a greater understanding of how to live harmoniously within it.
Martha A. Lavallie
Martha is a journalist with close to a decade of experience in uncovering and reporting on the most compelling stories of our time. Passionate about staying ahead of the curve, she specializes in shedding light on trending topics and captivating global narratives. Her insightful articles have garnered acclaim, making her a trusted voice in today's dynamic media landscape.