Gale force winds can be disruptive and destructive. Although these winds sometimes require specific weather systems to form, they can occasionally occur in seemingly pleasant conditions and wreak havoc on land and sea.
We’ve all experienced the power of high winds, and wherever you are in the world, you’re not immune to the threat of gale-force winds.
So, if you’ve switched on the news or your local radio station recently and heard a gale warning notification, what does it mean, and what should you expect from the weather conditions?
What Is A Gale?
A gale is an exceptionally strong wind that can reach speeds between 39-54 miles per hour and 63-88 kph on the coast.
The severity of a gale is measured on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale, which allows people without meteorological technology to determine and classify the strength of a wind.
The Beaufort Scale also allows us to determine the potential hazards and dangers that could accompany these winds by observing their behavior in real-time.
How Are Gales Formed?
Although gale force winds can occur anywhere in the world, some weather systems, environments and conditions will make certain regions more susceptible to gales and can impact the severity of the conditions.
Gale force winds are strong and persistent, and although they’re more common in coastal regions, they can occur anywhere.
Gale force winds may be more likely to develop in areas where low and high-pressure systems are in close proximity, especially near shorelines.
These winds are usually caused by a sudden, rapid drop in air pressure. If the strength of the low-pressure system is strong enough, winds can turn into gales extremely quickly, eventually building up into hurricane-strength winds.
This is especially true when winds move from areas of high pressure to low pressure.
In coastal regions, gale force winds can form in otherwise pleasant conditions. This usually happens if the surface of the sea and the land are heated up by the sun.
If the sun heats up and cools down quicker than the sea, a low-pressure system over land is formed.
This creates a sea breeze that can turn into a gale if the difference in pressure is extreme or if an area’s mountainous relief exacerbates the strengths of coastal winds through a funnel-like effect.
What Is A Gale Notification Warning?
A gale notification warning (see also ‘What Is A Small Craft Advisory And How To Prepare‘) is part of a system created by the National Weather Service. This multi-tier system provides a way to forecast extreme weather through outlooks, watches, warnings, and advisories.
A gale warning and “developing gale” notification warning are also part of the system.
The National Weather Service will issue a gale warning when strong winds are occurring, likely to occur, or imminent. These winds usually need to be between 39-54mph and averaged over a ten-minute period.
A developing gale warning refers to gale force winds (between 39-54mph) and is issued when these winds are expected to arrive by a certain time.
This warning will usually mean that your region is likely to experience gale-force winds within the next 24 hours. However, this warning can be used on a 48-hour forecast and 96-hour forecast if these winds are expected to develop within 72 to 120 hours.
According to the National Weather Services system, a warning is given either when a dangerous weather event or condition is occurring, imminent, or likely to occur. For marine forecasts, this event is likely to occur within 24 hours.
How Are Gale Notifications Given?
In the U.S, a gale warning is a maritime-only notification. On land, the equivalent is a wind advisory. Weather organizations will only issue these notifications when they expend winds to be sustained or extraordinary.
Gale warnings are usually given when winds blow between 35-60 mph or 56-96mph.
Weather organizations will issue these weather alerts via several channels, including:
- Radio broadcasts
- Satellite Services
- Digital Selective Calling (DSC)
- Short message service (SMS)
- Flag systems
- Social media
- Apps & Weather Stations
Gale Warnings And Visual Signals
In the U.S, the National Weather Service has an information system made up of flags, colored lights, and pennants to reach those on the water or near the coastline of potentially hazardous conditions.
This could include those on the water recreationally, fishing boats, ships out at sea, and those taking part in water sports.
There is a daytime and a nighttime display signal for gale-force winds, and these visual alerts are triggered on the coastline when winds blow between 39-46mph over ten-minute periods.
The daytime visual signal for a gale warning is two red pennants, and the nighttime signal is both white and red lights.
If the location and timing of gale-force events are uncertain, meteorological services will run a separate watch for increased risks of gale-force winds.
Gale warnings aren’t rare – in fact, they’re incredibly common. Whenever they’re issued, those taking to the water are advised to stay on land. A gale’s severity can severely impact water conditions, making water-based activities a threat to life.
The Bottom Line
Wherever you are in the world, you’re not immune to the risk of gale-force winds. Although these winds often require a clash of low and high pressure to form, they can occur in otherwise pleasant conditions on the coast.
What’s more, gale force winds can develop suddenly and without warning, and depending on their severity on the Beaufort Scale, this could be a threat to life.
The National Weather Service has its own system that’s used to issue gale-force notifications, so wherever you are, you’ll be allowed to follow the threat and receive alerts in real-time, even if you’re out on the water.
Gale warnings aren’t as rare as you might think – so the next time winds look harsh and persistent in your area, check your local forecast for a gale notification, and follow the advice carefully.