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Six of the fastest things EVER

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By Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter
Sunday, March 30, 2014, 2:18 PM

Those winds tossing Weather Network reports Chris Scott and Mark Robinson around like rag dolls in the video above were arguably the most devastating part of the nor'easter that struck Atlantic Canada mid last week.

Eventually, a peak wind gust of 172 km/h would be registered at Grand Etang, where they were - and in Newfoundland, an astounding 206 km/h wind gust was recorded.

That's insanely fast, and it got us to thinking about what the fastest winds, and come to think of it, the fastest ANYTHING on Earth, might be.

Here are six of the fastest things ever.

Fastest winds at the surface

Residents of the east coast aren’t unused to stiff winds, and often the strongest winds in Canada on a given day can be found in Newfoundland’s Wreckhouse region or parts of Cape Breton Island.

But even the staggering wind gusts encountered by our meteorologists during the past week’s Nor’easter couldn’t hold a candle to the absolute record wind speed ever recorded at the Earth’s surface.

The weather nerds among our readers might think it’s Mt. Washington, in New Hampshire, which recorded a 372 km/h gust in 1934, but that record was literally blown away in 1996, but the powerful winds of Tropical Cyclone Olivia.

Courtesy: Japan Meteorological Agency

Courtesy: Japan Meteorological Agency

That storm was already boasting hefty sustained winds of 233 km/h, the equivalent of a Category 4 hurricane, when it blew through Western Australia’s Barrow Island – leaving behind a reading of 408 km/h.

It happened in 1996, but a series of complications meant the World Meteorological Organization couldn’t verify it until 2010.

And even then, note the wording: Both the records above are to do with winds at the surface, and they’re nowhere close to the strongest winds ever recorded NEAR Earth’s surface.

That would be from this 1999 tornado in the Bridge Creek – Moore area of Oklahoma:

That massive twister had wind speeds of up to 486 km/h, way above the 322 km/h threshold of an E-F 5 rating on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, and on a whole other level from the previous records in this entry.

It’s often overlooked, due to the fact those speeds were measured via Doppler radar, not an on-site instrument, and those speeds weren’t on-the-ground speeds. But when you’re not far from the 500 km/h mark, we think that’s pretty significant.

The fastest human beings

They say you should never try and outrun a tornado. And, take it from us, they’re absolutely right. The average speed of a tornado is 48 km/h, but individually, they range from almost no movement at all, to a fast 112 km/h.

So if a twister is moving at the “average speed,” it would not only move faster than you, it would also move faster than the fastest man on earth running at full speed.

That would be Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt:

That’s a clip from the time Bolt smashed the 100 m world record by running it in 9.58 seconds. That comes to an average speed of 37.37 km/h, but at his absolute fastest, he was going at 43.99 km/h.

And the fastest woman on Earth, U.S. sprinter Florence Griffith-Joyner, isn’t too shabby either. Here she is, demolishing the 100 m in 10.49 seconds.

That record speed, set in 1988, averages out to 34.32 km/h (we couldn’t find data on her top speed, but it’s almost certainly higher than that).

So if you see a twister bearing down on you, your best bet is to find shelter. If Bolt and Griffith-Joyner can’t outpace your average tornado, what chance do you have? 

Fastest animal on land

Everybody knows the cheetah is the fastest land animal on the planet… at least over short distances.

Many a wildebeest has been felled by these spotted, lanky felines, zipping after them with a look of grim, but oddly disinterested determination on their faces (if nothing else, it makes cheetahs super fun to watch in slow motion).

That cat’s top speed maxes out at around 110 km/h, which it reaches in great leaps of 7 m per stride (about twice the length of your average car), and they can keep it up for a length of up to three football fields.

There are animals that can run for much longer distances, but none match the cheetah’s top speed. On the ground at least.

There are several kinds of birds which leave the cheetah in their dust, and while the spine-tailed swift can reach a respectable 170 km/h in level flight, the fastest in its category, we’ve really got our eye on the peregrine falcon.

That’s because when this predator is diving, it is the fastest animal in the world, period, at an astounding 320 km/h. In terms of tornado wind speeds, that’s about the mark where the EF-5 category starts.

Scientists figured out the bird’s aerodynamics are perfect for those kind of breakneck diving speeds, by training a bunch of them to dive down at a researcher from the top of a dam lined with high-speed cameras. As scientific experiments go, it certainly can’t have been boring. 

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