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From Hub, a blow to Chicago

What makes a real New England day? Forget the clear fall afternoons and balmy summer evenings.

Think wind.

Forecasters are predicting a windstorm for today that could bring gusts of 50 miles per hour, enough to splinter tree limbs and blow trash cans down the street. Even if the gusts don't reach that ferocity, the blast of air affirms a little-known fact revealed by climate data: Boston, not Chicago, is really America's windy city.

"There is one piece of weather you can count on all year long, and that is the wind," said Bruce Berman of Save the Harbor/Save the Bay, who spent part of yesterday securing his 40-foot boat in Charlestown.

New England is centered in the path of a sort of storm highway, according to weather scientists, producing excellent conditions for high winds as air flows from one weather system into another. It's why the country's first offshore wind farm is proposed in Nantucket Sound, and it's also why rain-lashed pedestrians struggling with inside-out umbrellas are a classic New England scene.

Boston tallies up as the windiest major city in the continental United States, and, if predictions hold, today will be the windiest all year.

"People should bundle up, secure trash cans, and if they have any lawn chairs still out, get them," said Alan Dunham, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "It is going to be windy."

Yesterday on Georges Bank, where gale force winds were predicted along with 14-foot-high seas, some fishing boats headed to shore to escape a pummeling. Meanwhile, power companies monitored forecasts and readied response teams in case of downed lines. Fallen tree branches and blowing debris could also stretch out road time for afternoon commuters.

A high-wind warning is in effect from noon until midnight, as winds are expected to hit 30 to 40 miles per hour across New England, with gusts up to 50. The average wind speed for November is about 13 miles per hour.

The fierce winds are coming from the northwest, as a Canadian cold high-pressure system dumps air into a low-pressure system that originated near the Great Lakes. Temperatures that start out this morning in the 50s across New England, after overnight showers, are predicted to drop into the 40s by late afternoon and continue to plunge tonight. The cold will hover in the mid-30s to low 40s through Friday, as will the wind.

"To see this wind would be fascinating," said James Manwell, director of the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who works on wind power. He visualizes wind acting much like rivers, producing eddies and a current as it blows around trees and buildings. "It's like ghosts passing you in the night."

Though wind doesn't get the same attention as more dramatic weather like rain and snow, it is crucial to understanding the climate because it is interconnected with every weather system. The sun heats up the earth's surface unevenly, causing warmer air to rise and leave pockets of low pressure underneath it. Then colder, denser air flows into those areas, much like water flowing downhill.

The steadiest winds are right offshore, where there are no obstructions.

Much of New England's wind comes from the west. But the region is subject to a slew of other complicated weather patterns that give Boston an annual wind speed of 12.4 miles per hour, not as high as the 35-mile-per-hour average atop Mount Washington, but higher than any other major American city.

Chicago, in fact, barely makes the top 10. It turns out that the Windy City is windier than most, but that may not be how it got its nickname: Some historians believe it actually comes from all the hot air its politicians used to blow.

Beth Daley can be reached at bdaley@globe.com.

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