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Oceanography And Marine Science

What is a Gale Warning – Quick Facts

What is a gale warning exactly? Gale warnings are alerts issued by national weather forecasting agencies around the world in the event that maritime locations are currently or imminently experiencing winds of gale force on the Beaufort scale. These warnings are specifically maritime warnings and are issued for locations along the water. The land-based equivalent in National Weather Service warnings is a wind advisory or high wind warning.

what is a gale warning

Gale warnings are issued when one or both of the following conditions are expected to begin within 36 hours and are not directly associated with a tropical cyclone: sustained winds of 34 to 47 knots (39 to 55 mph) or frequent gusts (duration of two or more hours) between 34 knots and 47 knots. These warnings are essential to save lives and minimize property damage and loss in coastal regions.

It is important to understand what a gale warning is and how it works, especially if you live in a coastal region prone to such weather conditions. In this article, we will discuss what a gale warning is, how it is issued, and what you should do if you receive one. We will also cover the Beaufort scale and how it is used to measure wind speeds, as well as other important information related to gale warnings.

What is a Gale Warning?

A gale warning is a public alert issued by national weather services. It is a maritime-only caution notice, equivalent to a wind advisory on land. Gale warnings are issued when extraordinary and sustained wind events of gale force are expected.


A gale warning means that winds of 34 to 47 knots (39 to 55 mph) are imminent or occurring. Sustained winds at sea having speeds in the range of 34-47 knots (39-54 miles per hour, 17-24 meters per second) are considered gale force winds. Gale force winds can cause significant damage to vessels and pose a danger to anyone on board.


The purpose of a gale warning is to alert mariners to the potential danger of gale force winds. Operating a vessel in gale conditions requires experience and properly equipped vessels. Mariners are advised to take necessary precautions to ensure their safety and the safety of their vessels.


There are several ways that people can be notified of gale warnings. One of the most common ways is through the use of weather radios, which are designed to receive alerts and warnings from the National Weather Service. These radios can be programmed to sound an alarm or provide a voice message when a gale warning is issued.

Another way to receive gale warnings is through the internet, where people can check weather websites or subscribe to email or text alerts from the National Weather Service or other weather providers. In addition, many mobile apps provide real-time weather alerts, including gale warnings, based on the user’s location.

Other sources of gale warnings include local television and radio stations, as well as sirens and other alert systems in coastal communities. It is important to stay informed and aware of weather conditions when planning any activities on or near the water, and to follow the guidelines and instructions provided by local authorities and the National Weather Service.

Gale Warning Flags

Gale warning flags are used by mariners to signal the presence of gale force winds. The visual signal are two red pennants stacked on top of each other.

Criteria for Issuance

Wind Speed

A gale warning is issued when sustained surface winds of 34 knots (39 mph) to 47 knots (54 mph) are either occurring, imminent, or likely. These winds can cause significant damage to property and pose a danger to life, especially on the water.

What is The Beaufort Wind Scale?

The Beaufort Wind Scale is a system that measures wind speed based on observable effects on the environment. It ranges from 0 to 12, with 0 being calm and 12 being hurricane-force winds. Gale force winds are classified as level 8 on the Beaufort scale.

Beaufort number Description Wind speed (knots) Wind speed (mph) Wave height (ft) Sea conditions Land conditions Associated warning flag
0 Calm 0-1 0-1 0 Flat, mirror-like surface Smoke rises vertically None
1 Light air 1-3 1-3 0-1 Small ripples, no foam Wind felt on face, leaves rustle None
2 Light breeze 4-6 4-7 1-2 Small wavelets Leaves and small twigs in motion None
3 Gentle breeze 7-10 8-12 2-3.5 Large wavelets Leaves and small branches move None
4 Moderate breeze 11-16 13-18 3.5-6 Small waves, whitecaps Small branches sway, dust and loose paper blow None
5 Fresh breeze 17-21 19-24 6-9 Moderate waves Small trees sway, crested wavelets on inland waters None
6 Strong breeze 22-27 25-31 9-13 Large waves, white foam Large branches move, umbrellas difficult to control
7 Near gale 28-33 32-38 13-19 Sea heaps up, white foam Whole trees in motion, walking difficult
8 Gale 34-40 39-46 18-25 Moderate high waves Twigs break off trees, difficult to walk
9 Strong gale 41-47 47-54 23-32 High waves, dense foam Slight damage to buildings, shingles blown off
10 Storm 48-55 55-63 30-45 Very high waves, sea rolls Trees uprooted, considerable damage to buildings
11 Violent storm 56-63 64-72 37-52 Exceptionally high waves Widespread damage, severe flooding
12 Hurricane force 64+ 73+ 45+ Huge waves, air filled with foam and spray Extensive damage, destruction, power outages


Gale warnings are issued when the sustained winds are expected to last for at least three hours. This allows people on land and at sea to prepare for the high winds and take necessary precautions.

Geographical Area

Gale warnings are issued for maritime regions. The National Weather Service issues warnings for areas that are expected to experience gale force winds within the next 36 hours.

It is important to note that the criteria for issuing a gale warning may vary depending on the region and the weather forecasting agency. However, the common denominator is that gale warnings are issued when there is a significant risk of high winds causing damage to property and endangering human life.

Types of Gale Warnings

Gale warnings are issued by national weather services to alert the public of expected extraordinary and sustained wind events of gale-force strength. There are three types of gale warnings: Small Craft Advisory, Gale Watch, and Gale Warning.

Small Craft Advisory

A Small Craft Advisory is issued when winds of 18 to 33 knots (21 to 38 mph) are expected to affect small boats, such as those used for fishing, sailing, and recreation. This advisory is not as severe as a Gale Warning and is issued more frequently, as it covers a wider range of wind speeds.

Gale Watch

A Gale Watch is issued when there is a potential for gale-force winds within the next 48 hours. This warning is less severe than a Gale Warning and is intended to give mariners and boaters enough time to prepare for the expected weather conditions.

Gale Warning

A Gale Warning is the most severe type of gale warning and is issued when sustained winds of 34 to 47 knots (39 to 54 mph) are expected to occur. This warning is intended to alert mariners and boaters of the potential for dangerous weather conditions and to take action to protect themselves and their vessels.

When a Gale Warning is issued, mariners are advised to stay in port, secure their vessels, and monitor the weather conditions closely. Mariners who are already at sea are advised to seek safe harbor, as the winds and waves associated with gale-force winds can be extremely dangerous.

Impacts of Gale Warnings

Marine Transportation

When a gale warning is issued, marine transportation is often impacted. Ships and boats may be forced to alter their routes or delay their departures to avoid the dangerous winds and waves. In severe cases, ports may be closed altogether, causing significant disruptions to the shipping industry. According to the National Weather Service, gale force winds can cause waves up to 13 feet high, making it difficult for even large vessels to navigate. This can put the safety of crew members and cargo at risk.

Recreational Boating

Gale warnings can also impact recreational boaters. Strong winds can make it difficult to control smaller vessels, and waves can capsize boats or cause them to take on water. It is important for boaters to heed gale warnings and avoid going out on the water during these conditions. In addition, gale force winds can create dangerous rip currents along the coast, making swimming and other water activities hazardous.

Coastal Communities

Coastal communities can also be impacted by gale warnings. High winds and waves can cause beach erosion and damage to coastal infrastructure, such as piers and boardwalks. In severe cases, flooding can occur, causing property damage and putting residents at risk. It is important for residents in coastal areas to stay informed during gale warnings and follow any evacuation orders issued by local authorities.

Gale Warning Safety Tips

When a gale warning is issued, it is important to take precautions to ensure your safety. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Stay informed: Keep up-to-date with the latest weather forecasts and warnings from reliable sources.
  • Secure loose objects: High winds can cause damage by knocking over unsecured objects. Make sure to secure any loose items in your yard or balcony.
  • Stay indoors: If possible, stay inside during a gale warning. If you must go outside, avoid areas with a lot of trees or buildings that could be damaged by high winds.
  • Prepare an emergency kit: In case of power outages or other emergencies, it is important to have a kit with essential items like food, water, and first aid supplies.
  • Stay away from the coast: Gale warnings are issued for coastal areas, where high winds can cause dangerous waves and flooding. If you live near the coast, stay away from the water and follow any evacuation orders.
  • Check on neighbors: If you have elderly or disabled neighbors, check on them to make sure they are safe and have everything they need.

Remember, gale warnings are serious alerts that should not be taken lightly. By following these safety tips, you can help protect yourself and your loved ones during a gale warning.


Overall, a gale warning is a public alert issued by national weather services to notify mariners and other coastal residents of impending strong winds and rough seas. It is important to take these warnings seriously and to take the necessary precautions to ensure safety.

Mariners should seek secure harbor and avoid navigating in gale conditions, as it requires experience and properly equipped vessels. Coastal residents should also take precautions to protect their property and themselves from the effects of high winds and waves.

It is important to stay up-to-date with the latest weather forecasts and warnings, and to follow the advice of local authorities. The National Weather Service issues wind warnings, watches, and advisories to provide advance notice of hazardous weather conditions, including gale warnings.

Remember, safety should always be the top priority when dealing with severe weather conditions. By taking the necessary precautions and heeding the warnings of weather authorities, we can help minimize the risks associated with gale conditions and protect ourselves and our property.

Hayley Gordon

Hayley Gordon has been surfing for over 20 years. Riding both shortboards and longboards, she's traveled the world to surf but mainly sticks to her two home locations of San Diego and Long Island.

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