What Are Gale Force Winds and How are They Formed?

I’m sure we’ve all experienced the battle against gale force winds, these stronger winds often seeing you get blown down the street rather than walking. So we’ve all been confronted with this type of wind but do you actually know what they are and how they are formed?

Below we have outlined what a gale force wind actually is before identifying the causes and ways in which they are formed. 

A gale force wind is commonly referred to as a strong wind and according to the US National Weather Service, wind of this kind falls in the range of 34-47 knots. A knot simply refers to a unit that is used to measure the speed of wind. Some winds can be as low as 1 knot while others can exceed 64 knots. The knots of gale force winds increase alongside the velocity of the wind. 

Gale force winds can often be damaging to their surroundings, hence why you can often expect weather forecasters to issue weather warnings when winds of this kind are expected. Typical gale force winds are likely to see the branches of trees breaking off with subtle disruption to other areas of the environment.

Stronger gale force winds measuring around 41-47 knots are more than likely to result in more significant structural damage. 

While the speed of wind can vary depending on your geographical location, in the US the average wind speed is around 60 to 12 miles per hour. However, the Beaufort Scale (an empirical measurement of wind speed across the land or sea) observes that gale force winds can range between 50 - 102 km/h positioning this type of wind between 7 to 10 in regards to their force. 

Although you are often likely to experience gale force winds as a result of stormy weather and hurricanes etc, they aren’t solely present in these weather conditions and the presence of gale-force winds can often be unexpected. However, many will likely agree that if you happen to be outdoors when these winds occur, they can often leave you feeling as though they are strong enough to blow yourself and surroundings over. 

Despite being classified as a less severe weather condition than hurricanes and tropical storms etc, gale force winds present some danger to their surrounding environment. The aftermath of these weather conditions are likely to result in damage to property and surroundings. Strong gale force winds for example are likely to cause damage to roofs etc.

In the US, the areas that are most likely to experience gale-force winds are marine areas and it is highly likely that the National Weather Service will issue a weather warning in preparation for these winds.  

How are gale force winds formed?

There isn't one sole cause of these gale force winds, as the Beaufort Scale identifies, gale force winds can vary in force classified as either a near gale force wind, a gale force wind, or a strong gale force wind. These differences in classification create winds that increase in speed alongside their force.  

The primary cause that leads to the formation of gale force winds is typically due to a rapid drop in the air pressure often as a result of this pressure transitioning from high pressure to low pressure. A low-pressure system essentially refers to the center of an area that has a lower pressure than the areas which surround it. As a result, the wind is then inclined to blow towards these areas of low pressure, and the differences in temperature results in the gale force winds. 

Additionally, for those who live along the seafront, gale force winds are likely to be a regular occurrence and this is essentially because, in many cases, the sea can be particularly strong and powerful which often sees lighter breezes transforming into particularly vigorous and heavy winds. 

The wind can appear differently between the land and the sea, of course, the sea is likely to provide a more clearly visible illustration in regards to how strong these winds can be. On the sea, you will see a white foam develop where the waves break and as these winds get stronger, this will create higher waves that begin to roll while producing an increased amount of foam. For those living in these areas, this is likely to have an effect upon visibility. 

Final Thoughts

As mentioned previously, gale force winds aren’t solely caused by adverse weather conditions while this may be the cause in some cases, a lot of the time you may be enjoying a fairly normal weathered day only to be confronted with the unexpected presence of these winds. While they aren’t deemed to be as strong as storm winds or hurricanes, their presence can be rather disruptive so it is beneficial to take the necessary precautions to ensure that you are prepared for the presence of gail force winds. 

Any winds that exceed 50 km/h and reach 102 km/h are classified as gale force winds with some of course being stronger than others. You are more than likely to find that the National Weather Forecast Service for your particular geographical location will issue a weather warning when winds of this kind are expected. Having this warning in place essentially warns people of the presence of these dangerous and sometimes damaging weather conditions. 

The damage caused by these winds can vary from more minimal damage to tree branches etc to more serious damage to property and the environment, and so preparing for these weather conditions beforehand is beneficial in helping to minimize the potential damage that is felt. 

Your geographical location is going to be highly influential regarding the regularity and force in which you may experience these gale force winds. While some may experience these strong winds daily due to their particular location, for example, marine and seafront areas, for others they may be less common. 

About the Author Marvin J. Snyder

I'm the research analyzer and data interpretation here at Weather Station Lab. I test various weather stations and share my conclusion here. Since my childhood, I had a passion towards weather and I'm always fascinated by that. Eventually, I pursued Ph.D. in Atmospheric Science from the University of Arizona. I hope my contribution will help you to know more about weather stations. Read more about us, here