A question we’re often asked is ‘what’s the weather doing?’. In what follows we’ll do our best to give you the most useful response to that question.
Looking at wind forecasts is linked to session planning and site assessments. But, there’s no point checking it every morning, noon and night if you don’t really know what you’re looking at.
F O R E C A S T S
All we really want to know is how reliable it is, so here’s the unsatisfying answer: it's a prediction with varying degrees of reliability. Information is drawn from certain locations and is fed into a ‘weather model’. This 'weather model' then predicts/simulates/guesses what will happen next. These predictions are pretty good, but they’re not perfect, leaving us with a certain degree of uncertainty. And with many different weather models and numerous websites, each one with a slightly different prediction, it can seem like a lot to take in.
So what does each bit mean? The top box shows you which day of the week, date and time is being shown in the forecast. Warning: not all time frames are the same, check the times covered throughout the day. It could be hourly - giving you more data, or every two or three hours - giving you a better overall picture of weather trends. Moving down the table vertically, the next two boxes are the most interesting: wind speed followed by wind gusts. The next box down is wind direction. This info is followed by temperature, cloud cover (high/mid/low) and precipitation. Windguru operates something like a traffic light system. If you see green and amber colours at the relevant times, you’re good to go. If you see red, you’re looking at a slightly more challenging session ahead.
The best advice we can give you, is stay as up to date as you can and check the forecasts regularly. We use WindGuru every day as it displays various predictions and is usually pretty good, but everyone has their favourite. Other popular sources include the XCweather site and the Windy app.
Things change a little when looking at a live forecast for the next 24hrs. Firstly, the forecast is more likely to be accurate. This is because generally speaking, weather changes over hours, not minutes. There are exceptions to this rule, but weather is incredibly complex.
Secondly, you can and should use the Mk 1 eyeball - the best source of information there is. If you have two competing forecasts, one saying it's raining and 30 knots while the other claims it is sunny and 10 knots, how do you decide? Just look outside and you’ll know which is more accurate. It sounds obvious but people rely on technology without combining common sense more often than you might think.
Thirdly, it’s likely that the forecast which correctly predicts what has happened, and what’s going on currently, will better predict what happens later in the day. If you have to travel to where you will be kiting, there are ways to get live data remotely. Weatherfile.com is a great website providing free live and historical weather data from certain spots in the UK and there’s one right by Poseidon Kite School.
W I N D S T R E N G T H
Ever wondered what people are on about when they talk about force 4? Developed by Sir Francis Beaufort, the Beaufort scale is a visual system for identifying how strong the breeze is. Much simpler than doing the mental maths of converting mph to knots to kph.
Now you know how to read the weather, the next step is deciding if it’s the right conditions for you to get out on the water. Kiting can happen in most wind ranges given sufficient skill and appropriate kit - 15-25 knots is ideal, that’s F4-5 on the Beaufort scale. This is enough wind to keep line tension without too much input from the kiter, but equally not too much wind that things get sketchy. It’s always important to risk assess before and during your session and a complete risk assessment includes weather considerations. Moving up the scale, 25-30 knots (or F6) is a strong breeze. That is to say, it’s pretty breezy. We would advise against beginner level riders practicing in these conditions. Partly for safety and partly for comfort - crashes get uncomfortable as the breeze increases and things can go wrong much faster.
W I N D D I R E C T I O N
An easterly wind comes FROM the east. This will be shown on a weather forecast such as Windguru as an arrow. In our example of an easterly, the arrow points this way: <—. In the UK, our prevailing wind is southwesterly (coming from the south-west).
Applying theory to a practical setting can be tricky. Job number 1 is a site assessment. This is a very basic risk assessment for the site(s) you will be setting up and riding in. Is this site suitable for me to set up my kit? Is it suitable to launch my kite? Is this site suitable for riding? And most importantly of all, what happens if it all goes wrong - at any point.
A lot of information is available from a quick look at google maps. You will be able to look at the map and imagine which way the wind will be blowing. Perhaps some things like submerged hazards and local bye-laws are more difficult to ascertain from afar. Luckily, in our sport you’re going to have to ask someone for a launch, why not make it a local kiter and ask for these bits of information at the same time. If you are still new to the sport, we strongly discourage self-launching and/or riding alone.
S I T E A S S E S S M E N T
Wind strength and direction directly impacts your site assessment. To explain this and keep things simple, we’ll use the harbour as an example.
Always assess impartially and ask yourself the following questions.
Q1. Is the site suitable to set up my kit?
Yes. We have a thin strip of sand which is suitable to set up kit. But there is a road right next to it which, if you’re wondering, constitutes a major hazard.
Q2. Is this spot suitable to launch my kite? What makes a spot suitable in the first place?
Space is key. If you had all the space in the world, you’d be good to go. Unfortunately this isn’t always possible. So, we have a thin strip of sand running north to south, with buildings to the east and shallow water to the west.
(i) Wind coming from the North or South.
This direction will mean that the wind runs parallel to the beach. So, we have a cross-shore breeze. The beach is too narrow to launch without someone getting their feet wet. So either the kiter or the launcher will be paddling for the launch. The water is shallow enough to walk into and check your lines before launching. If it was deep, this would make the spot unsuitable for launching. Thankfully it is shallow.
The kiter, not the launcher, should stand in the water for multiple reasons. Firstly, be polite. If someone is willing to launch your kite for you, don’t make them get their feet wet as well. Secondly, and more importantly, the kiter moves their wind window into a safer zone if they stand in the water. If something is wrong with the lines and the kite flies all the way to the other side of the window, it’s better that the kiter has a wind window which is clear of obstacles and hazards. If the kiter stands on the beach and forces the volunteer to launch their kite from the water, then the other side of their wind window could overlap a hazard, possibly even a road. As always, make sure that you have 50m+ (or two line lengths) space downwind of you free of hazards before launching a kite.
One point to note is that due to the surrounding buildings, in these directions (Northerly and Southerly) the wind tends to be a little gustier than usual. For this reason, the wind becomes more stable the further downwind you move. The only balance is that because the harbour is a semi-circle, you can move so far downwind that you run out of space, and as kiters, we need 50m+ distance between us and any downwind hazards.
(ii) Wind coming from the East.
This is an easy one in our current location. The wind is offshore. Safe for a launch? Well, whilst there might be no hazards downwind of you, the risk is that you get blown out to sea - offshore. In reality, because of buildings to the east of the beach, the wind is blocked and swirls around unpredictably. This makes launching nearly impossible. However, at low tide it is possible to walk into the bay and launch. But just because you can launch doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. An easterly session is potentially very dangerous. Kiting is possible for more advanced riders on the other side of the peninsula. However, for beginners and improvers, offshore conditions are to be avoided.
(iii) Wind coming from the West.
In the UK, we primarily get wind from the SW. So, if W blows onshore, SW and NW blow cross-onshore. These three wind directions, all with a bit of West in them, are the best for the location we are discussing.
Q3. Is this spot suitable to go riding?
Having already assessed whether you can set up your kit at the spot, the focus here is more about the suitability of the spot for riding. Luckily for us, thinking about the suitability of launching in the spot will give us a good idea of whether riding there is a good idea or not. This is not the case for all locations. Wind from the North or South means gusty conditions. Wind from the east is a no go. Wind from the West is best as it'll blow you in, just always ensure to always keep a safety buffer zone of 50 meters.
Q4. What happens if it all goes wrong?
This is the question you should be asking yourself every time you are weighing up a decision. It’s this thought which informs most answers to most questions about site assessments. There isn’t just one answer to the question of what happens when it all goes wrong, because it depends where you are, you might be thinking about setting up, launching, riding or conditions changing while you’re out riding. If you can answer this question in each scenario and then make a contingency plan, you’re good to go. You’ve assessed the threat, estimated the risk and possible harm and used that to make an informed decision.
If you feel like there might be some gaps in your knowledge, you can always book a private tuition but hopefully this, admittedly long…ish read, has been of interest and helpful too.
Let us know in the comments below if there are other subjects that you would like the Poseidon team to write up.