Is Gale warning dangerous? The issuance of a gale warning prompts contemplation of the hazards and threats posed by the impending severe weather.
By learning more about the threats posed by gale warnings, we can take the necessary precautions to safeguard our lives and possessions.
But, are gale force winds dangerous and require some serious preparations?
Yes, Gale warning can be dangerous and highlight the potential for damage to buildings, power outages, and other forms of human disruption.
Understanding Gale Force Winds
Winds are described as at gale force, and are referred to as gales when their speeds are between 31 and 63 mph.
The winds are strong and persistent, with gusts so severe they cause structural damage.
Although strong winds are part of many major weather systems, gales can come out of nowhere, especially along coastlines.
They are measured against the Beaufort Wind Scale which uses descriptions of damage to apply the wind a rating.
The numbers 1 – 12 describe wind as it grows in intensity.
Fact: Descriptions of gales are rated through 7, a near gale, to 10, a storm and a whole gale.
Explanation of the Gale Warning
Some days are windier than others. That is because conditions in the atmosphere are constantly changing.
The turmoil creates pockets of moving air with different air pressure, temperature and density.
Winds are formed as the pressures try to equalize with the current of air moving down a pressure gradient, high to low.
As they do, the air behind rushes in to fill the vacuum pushing the air mass in front as it does so.
When conditions look set for strong winds to progress to gale force, the air pressure falls and metrologists issue a maritime-only caution notice, a gale warning.
Definition and Criteria for a Gale Warning
In the US, a maritime-only caution notice is equivalent to a wind advisory.
These warnings are issued when winds can sustain themselves outside a low-pressure system.
Here, the average wind speeds are expected to reach between 35-60 mph or 30 -52 knots or are already occurring.
It is a warning of high seas that is transmitted across various media including:
- SMS text
- VHF radio
- The maritime flag system
It alerts seafarers to prepare for high waves as surface waters are blown toward land.
Fact: Although less severe than a hurricane, a gale blowing onshore makes entering and docking at ports more complicated.
Is Gale Warning Dangerous or Not?
Yes, a gale warning represents many potential dangers related to different sectors and aspects of life.
Let’s talk about more about those potential dangers:
Increased Risk of Capsizing or Damage to Vessels
Even in sheltered coastal waters, gusting winds can reach 34 knots (39mph). These high winds can easily capsize small inshore boats.
This is more likely to happen if:
- The boater is inexperienced
- Caught off guard by the direction of the gusts
It happens because the direction of the gusts is corralled and channeled by geographical features such as stacks, cliffs and peninsulas.
An Important Consideration
In rising seas, up to 8 feet as a gale progresses, small craft become heavy and difficult to handle.
Without the power to counter the winds speed or cut through the blown surface water, small craft are more likely to blow out motors, lose masts or get blown onto rocks.
Challenges for Navigation and Safety at Sea
Coastal areas are always at a higher risk of gales although strong prevailing winds are pretty characteristic of the weather conditions encountered out at sea.
They impede the progress of even the bigger ocean-going ships and impact navigation as visibility drops as the winds whip the tops of the waves into fine ocean spray.
There may be collisions with other vessels or floating debris while at sea or against the dock when secured in port.
Those on board will experience challenging conditions as the erratic movement of the boat makes every task, particularly getting around more dangerous and demanding.
Higher Chances of Coastal Erosion and Flooding
Along coasts, the regular high tide, steep waves and onshore gusting winds increase the rate of coastal erosion as water is thrown against the shore by the wind.
There are two kinds to consider:
- Slow-onset hazard, which takes decades or longer;
- Rapid-onset hazard that can happen instantly in a gale in landslides or cliff falls
At the mouths of estuaries, the high-water acts like a barrier to the discharging water, sometimes driving it back to flood inland.
Fact: The gale moves the sand and gravel on beaches sometimes eliminating the sea water barrier, eroding the beach and depositing the sediment elsewhere.
Potential Damage to Infrastructure and Property Along the Coast
Gale force winds weaken and damage infrastructure such as bridges and roads and disrupt communication networks as communication masts come down.
The gale can bring with it fierce thunderstorms and lightning strikes as well as bursts of torrential rain.
All this has the potential to cause damage to larger commercial buildings, especially if the sidings and roofs are not securely fixed.
Infrastructure has to cope with being bombarded by debris and damaged by windblown water and strong currents of air that get trapped and bounce around in their structures.
Roads may flood or be blocked, limiting transportation and impacting industry.
Potential for Downed Trees, Power Outages and Property Damage
All gales have the potential to break branches, down saplings and uproot trees adding to the debris flying through the air and blocking the roads.
It is all together more difficult to move around and get on with daily activities.
Power outages are common, and they can be localized or widespread lasting for several days because any essential service will find movement more difficult.
Mobile homes and beach properties, typical of the holiday homes on the coast, are especially vulnerable, not just from the wind but also from high tides flooding.
However, even homes lose chimneys, fencing, shingles and tiles, which increases the risks of venturing outside.
Risks to Outdoor Activities and Safety Precautions
Gales can mean a particularly windy day or wind speeds approaching those of severe storms like hurricanes.
It is true that expert weather watchers can make sensible predictions based on the conditions in a gale or an approaching low-pressure storm.
But, they are never guaranteed and that makes all high winds potentially very dangerous.
They are sensitive to atmospheric conditions and can suddenly change direction, sustained their gusts for longer or simply blow themselves out.
Fact: When no one knows for sure and a warning is given, it is safer to stay indoors well away from the beach, the heavy rain and flying debris.
Explanation of How it Differs from Other Weather Warnings or Advisories
A gale warning is a maritime warning. But, coastal populations also benefit because coastal gales damage infrastructure and property and blow people over.
But primarily, the maritime-only caution notice is intended for fishermen and sailors out at sea or people living and working on the immediate coast, including surfers, kiteboarders and recreational sailors.
A gale warning is the second of a two-step weather warning system and after a gale watch is announced, there is a probable threat of gale force winds at sea within the next few days.
This gives sailors plenty of time to find safe anchorage or reach a harbor.
Importance of Heeding Gale Warnings and Taking Them Seriously
Mariners know the purpose of a gale warning is to advise that only those with experience of rough seas should consider leaving port or staying out at sea.
They also realize it implies that only vessels built and equipped for tough weather will be safe, but even for mariners there are no guarantees.
However, landfarers dismiss gale warnings and disregard the risks associated with them with the attitude that at least it is not a hurricane even when it nearly is.
What they fail to understand is that any high wind making land brings along a risk to property and a threat to life.
Is Gale warning dangerous? Yes, a gale warning is a cause for concern since it portends the arrival of gusty conditions that can affect many facets of our daily lives.
It is imperative to take gale warnings seriously and prioritize safety measures, whether you are participating in nautical activities, living in coastal locations, or are on land.
We may lessen the risk of harm from gale warnings by keeping ourselves informed, heeding evacuation procedures if they are in place, and taking refuge in a secure building.