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Squalls - Some Ideas on avoiding them (updated 6.11.08)

Posted: Wed Mar 17, 2004 4:23 pm
by RickI
We lust for wind. Sometimes we get more than we can handle, mother nature is like that. When it happens things can get ugly, gear can get trashed and so can riders.

First some pictures ...

A shelf cloud in Holland. These clouds can bring sudden gusts, tornados, microburst, wind direction shifts and more irregular weather.
From: ... -cloud.jpg

Another shelf cloud from a tropical depression in Cabarete, DR

A summer squall in the Bahamas bringing violent wind spikes, direction reversals followed by the shutting off of wind in general

A pretty fluffy cloud likely containing a supercell(s) with the capacity to throw out microbursts, tornados and high, violent wind gusts off Boca Raton, FL, USA at dusk.

LOTS of other variations out there, we are talking about an entire WORLD of weather, right? Get to know what goes on in your area.

So, what is the problem? Good useable winds, perhaps even on the lighter side, rigged big - right and suddenly, KA-POW, a very strong gust slams in! Say 15 kts. to 40 kts. or even 10 kts. to 50 kts. This can happen in many areas of the world. The force exerted by your kite can increase by SEVEN TO TWENTY-FIVE TIMES IN THESE GUST RANGES!!! Serious stuff, more power than we can safetly handle.

Hey, I've got a BOW kite, flat kite or Super-Depower C kite, I can handle it. Not if you don't react properly in time or if your system is poorly maintained or if it malfunctions or if after activation you STILL have too much kite area up. Kiteboarders using the newer designs in higher winds have been injured and even killed largely due to choosing to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Choose your kiting weather well and monitor it while you are out.

If something like this hits and you have a kite up it is UNCERTAIN how things will play out. You might be able to depower your kite and keep it. Your kite might be ripped away from you and threaten someone else downwind or simply get trashed on a powerline or building. Or, you might not be able to depower or unhook, LOTS HAVEN'T BEEN ABLE TO, and you are going for a ride. Possibly lofted high, long and fast or dragged, short, fast and hard. Either way, serious injury may happen and has already happened to other riders.

So how about an example? Take the storm system, nice white clouds, pretty almost. We had some of these moving down the coast here over the last two days.

This was in the sky and ...

The color radar showed the following:


Note the multicolored cells in the storm band to the north. The reds and darker colors indicate POWERFUL storm cells. The kind that can toss out gusts on the order of 35 to 50 kts. or even higher, in tornados that could be spawned.

Here is what the Weather Service had to say about conditions:


439 PM EST WED MAR 12 2003



Time to rig up and go? Not if you aren't running for a Darwin Award.

Here are some wind graphs of past systems that typify these squalls:



DON'T CONCLUDE that these sort of squalls are confined to South Florida, THEY AREN'T. It seems most areas at some time or another have strong violent storm winds. Some areas, like South Florida, New Zealand, and probably LOTS of other areas have these not too uncommonly. I have tried to build a database of local unstable weather but folks have been reluctant to send in information unfortunately. It isn't TOO LATE to help out your fellow riders, for more info checkout:


Photos by Rick Iossi except as noted

Posted: Fri Jun 18, 2004 1:59 am
by RickI
Kiteboarding Weather Planning And Monitoring

I believe based upon analysis of hundreds of accidents/incidents over 12 years and personal misadventures that ALL kitesurfers should undertake steps similar to the following for EACH kiting session.

Put this together a while back. It is worth reading over and using something similar where you ride before each session. It can reduce wind waiting and improve the odds for better, ideally safer sessions. has lots of local stations/pages throughout the USA. Some other countries have similar resources. Learn what exists where you ride and use it. Don't expect these services to warn of ALL hazards to kiters, as they haven't at times in the past. A small cloud can wreck our day and may not even show up on their threat board. This was an extreme and obvious threat, others are more subtle fairly often. A sudden gust from a squall topping out at 35 kts. or less has injured kiters when they failed anticipate it and react properly in advance. We need to use these resources, others, pay attention to weather at the launch and act responsibly ourselves.

Kiteboarding Weather Planning And Monitoring

Here are some ideas to consider while planning your kiting sessions, where to go, expecting what winds and when, what weather hazards if any are anticipated and things to look for. It isn't perfect and there are still surprises but less than going out without much of an idea what to expect that day. Knowledge is power and should improve the odds for more fun and less grief, use it.

1. Marine/Water & Hazard Forecasts
Check reliable forecasts (predicted winds, direction, HAZARD FORECASTS, temperatures, anticipated changes, cold fronts, tropical or strong systems). Anticipate changes don’t fall into them. Not all private weather sites are reliable, use what works well in your area. Will your kite size work for the day or will you need to increase or decrease size at some point. How about exposure clothing, is there a sudden temperature drop inbound? Hazard forecast are often a guess, one that may be exaggerated or understated, every once in a while spot on. We need to use them as a guide tempering the forecast with our own good judgment. Predictions of 30 kt. gusts with storms can readily change to 50 kts.+ when they actually come through. We need to do some thinking for ourselves in short and on the conservative side too.

2. Radar and Satellite Maps
Is stormy weather (often bright colored masses), squall lines, isolated storm clouds or feeder bands inbound? Looping weather images can show CURRENT trends and speed. Does it look they will arrive during your session? Cold front squall lines can be very narrow and pass by within a hour or so at times making it easier to avoid the wind hazards. Temper this with LOCAL knowledge as conditions can change radically in only an hour sometimes, systems can accelerate or stall, etc.. Thermal squalls, the ones that often bring thermal winds can pop up very fast on radar, use your eyes at the beach and storm signs at the beach too.

3. Synoptic/Frontal Weather Maps
Are there significant weather systems inbound, cold fronts, tropical systems, strong high/low pressure, got tight pressure isobars for strong wind? You can see fronts on these maps routinely five days out, there is usually no good reason to be caught by surprise with frontal wind spikes, squalls, direction shifts, temperature drops. You can often watch things move in over time and perhaps even time them to the half hour at your launch. Look at these maps on loop again to learn about CURRENT trends and speed.

4. Real time winds
How are winds upweather or the direction of the prevailing system, spikes/gusty and shifting winds inbound, is there a 90 degree or so windshift coming with a front? Frequently you can see a preview of what the front will bring to your area, hundreds of miles upweather in advance. It’s a free look at what may be the future, why not take it? If unstable weather is coming avoid it until it passes. Did the winds pop up later in the morning or afternoon, are they thermal or convection winds? If so, they will likely turn off and you should know when to anticipate this happening. The regional wind pattern may resume once they turn off, be it dead calm or changing to blowing directly offshore. Learn what to look for and act in advance of the change.

5. Wind Useable or NOT?
If you decide to go, STAY AWARE, at all times of the weather. Things like cloud lines, funnel clouds, microbursts, wind direction and velocity, white caps, mist, temperature changes. KNOW what systems/clouds look like in your area that bring hazardous weather. Typical weather patterns can be recognized within given seasons. Learn what to look for and when to react. Good chance you are a wind junkie already so play the complete roll and tune into wx. Measure wind speed at the launch along with other visual indicators such as white caps, tree and flag movement and ask how other kiters are doing on their respective kite sizes before selecting yours. If you expect a weather change to occur, don't be on the water if something violent comes through. Sometimes the hazardous period can be short so just wait it out assess to verify stable conditions have resumed and rig for actual conditions.

6. At the beach & riding
Checkout wind speed, direction, sky and water conditions at the launch and during your session. Is the wind useable, are sky conditions stable or threatening? What do threatening sky conditions look like in your area? You should know. Are there dark clouds and/or a wind/whitewater inbound? What about funnel clouds or waterspouts, are there small points showing up at the bottom of clouds? Can you see whitewater approaching, new wind lines, how about dust from microbursts? Always be aware of your surroundings, weather changes, ANTICIPATE & REACT early.

7. Squall is almost here!
Land, thoroughly secure gear early, before significant wind, temperature changes or threatening weather arrives. Systems can move 50 mph + hitting with minimal warning. If you screw up and are caught on the water, consider totally or emergency depowering your kite early, waiting too long has taken riders. Be ready to release your kite leash if your kite powers up again. Riding out far from shore may work for ships. Ships don’t get ripped 50’+ from the water and blown at high speed downwind. DON'T WAIT, act early to kill the power of the kite even if it means swimming in after. Your strong swimming skills and impact vest should make that a manageable process in normal temperatures. If it is cooler use a lot of extra care and again act correctly EARLY.

These are just some impressions, there is still more to learn particularly dealing with the weather patterns in your area. Want to learn more, plug into your local situation and build up a strong weather sense and knowledge of predictive and realtime weather informational sites. Be careful about less violent gusts. Guys have been injured by gusts as little as 10 kts. above background. Going to 20 kt. gusts you can get YANKED off of the water and blown inland, IF you set yourself up for it with poor technique.

Originally posted at phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=7646 on March 14, 2003


Posted: Thu Jan 17, 2008 8:53 pm
by RickI
Not all cold fronts bring violent weather, some do however. Often indications of heavy weather are fairly obvious from weather records such as the example from March 2005 that appears below. Sometimes you can time your session to AVOID the squall line at the leading edge of some fronts. This particular front had more than one however.


The color radar showed several squall lines of potentially violent weather.

Venice Beach, FL

This station on the west coast of Florida had already been hit with strong squall gusts. Note the 90 degree direction change typical of frontal winds and the irratic direction changes common in squall gusts.

Sanibel, FL

Wiggins, FL

Key Biscayne, FL

That isn't a blow torch flame roasting Florida but in fact a color enhanced satellite image of a "weak" cold front.

The weather map showed a frontal boundary sweeping across the southeast with SEVERE thunderstorms possible.

One of the squall bands off to the east, over the ocean at about 5 pm. All that blue sky and that big nasty band on weather clear as day.

The squall line at the leading edge of the front strikes SW Florida near Marco Island and the wind spikes up to at least 40 mph, possibly more. Note the classic 90 degree direction change in the wind.

Enhanced color radar and satellite imagery from around 3 pm with the SW coast getting struck by the squall line.

More imagery from TWO hours later at 5 pm.


Posted: Wed Jun 11, 2008 2:53 pm
by RickI
Just updated and changed some of the text and images in this post. Pays to know weather where you ride!

FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi


Posted: Thu Jun 12, 2008 2:47 am
by RickI
Some more useful information appears at:


Posted: Fri Jun 22, 2012 7:36 pm
by RickI
Here is something else from dealing with cloud identification.

Here is a spotter photo guide prepared by the NWS. It identifies some of the more obvious, in some cases "straight out of hell" appearing storms. Riders are still getting caught in these obvious systems, badly scared, injured or killed. So, the following is to provide more information on these more obvious threats that can be a part of our weather reality.

A gust front moves in. From: 2003_chase_images.htm

I've been going over records of kiting losses this week. It is amazing how many happened in obvious, severe weather, supercells complete with powerful wind gusts. Some of the lost kiters were described as cautious, safety oriented people. Some were coming in to land but too late. Others were ripped off the water and lofted as far as 500 m away and a 100 m high (over 1650 ft. away and 300 ft. high!). Riding storms out to sea may work for ships but they don't get lofted unlike us. The smart folks are on shore and secured before any change in wind speed, direction or temperature. It is good to remember that there are sometimes lulls before all hell breaks loose but not always, the "calm before the storm."

They waited until the storm was too close, they can move a mile a minute after all. Being late can cause you to miss an appointment, a plane or in this case the rest of your life. When it comes to storms, anticipate and completely avoid them weather planning and monitoring, if you screw up and are late coming in, Emergency Depower EARLY even if it means swimming. You have good swimming skills and an impact vest on right to reduce the odds of problems?

I will always remember the story of a boy in France, 18 yrs. in 2002, standing on the beach looking for someone to grab his kite a 1/4 mile away from other kiters. He was still standing there when a severe squall swarmed ashore and lofted him a couple hundred meters at high speed into a pole. Never acted to Emergency Depower (kill all the power by flagging his kite) while he still had the chance.

Far lesser storms can mess you up too so there is more that we need to know than the following, Still, there is no excuse to have a kite up when the extremely obvious severe variety are inbound. This accidents have happened in most parts of the world including several in Europe. Here is a spotter guide for severe weather, thunderstorms prepared by NWS. Read over it and act early, don't blow this stuff off.

more at: