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Old 12-11-2006, 08:46 PM
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Default Cold Fronts from SBC Kiteboard

Cold Fronts

An EDITED version of the following was printed in SBC Kiteboard Magazine, Vol. 6, Issue #2, Spring 2005

**The following unedited version is provided only to allow the reader to be able to use the links and refer to the figures.


Cold fronts come with regularity throughout much of the year. They consist of a cooler air mass moving into and beneath a warmer air mass. The upward movement of the warm air at the leading edge of the front can generate a squall line as shown, around 50 to 200 miles ahead of the front. Squall lines have been stated to contain some of the most turbulent and violent weather known. Fronts can travel on average around 30 mph but can move as high as 60 mph over ground. In some areas squall warnings are sufficient reason for small craft to return to safe harbor.

Fronts can bring sudden strong gusty weather with or without squalls, wind shifts, lightening and more. Alternatively, the wind may just spike with a vengeance without storms (as shown in the wind plot below). Forecasts may or may not be accurate so it is important to stay aware of changing conditions.

Kiteboarders may be the only folks flying a parachute-like device the size of a station wagon as potentially strong forecast frontal winds move in that can capsize a boat!? Weather planning and monitoring are JUST as important in kiteboarding as they are to airplane pilots and blue water sailors. Know your weather, the forecast and developing conditions and react, EARLY. Accident experience has shown that when suddenly hit by overpowering winds, kiteboarders have frequently failed to successfully depower their kites.


Let say you rig up for conditions shown above prior to the arrival of the cold front. Ignore the time of the wind spike, fronts can strike 24 hours per day. This same front lofted four riders at about 9:30 am about 135 miles further south. You are on your 16 m kite riding 100 yards offshore and the frontal winds hit, suddenly. The wind boosts from 15 mph to 43 mph+. You are on a 16 m and unless you are unhooked and let go, chances are your butt is toast. The kite is now imparting at least 9 TIMES the power that it was just before everything hit the fan. You may be lofted, very high, dragged or both, faster than you can safety react.

If you drop your kite to leash successfully it is likely with many systems that the leash attachment may be ripped away from you and off goes your kite. If your leash attachment doesn't rip free, your kite may have enough residual power even though you have dropped it to leash in such a gust (mid 40 mph+), to drag you anyway.

Here are a few ideas on how to try to manage these conditions during cold fronts. You still may get caught and slammed, as can always happen if you have a traction kite up, but it should reduce the odds of a predicted event getting the better of you. There are similar sites and resources in other parts of the world and a tremendous amount of weather information out there. Learn what is available and reliable in your area.

1. Check forecasts on (USA) and (Canada) for your area.

What are the predicted winds, gusts, direction and are storms expected? What does the weather map show in terms of cold fronts? (see Check for WEATHER HAZARD WARNINGS for your area and points up weather from your location. Carefully consider the warning and accept that actual conditions may exceed predicted wind speeds and gust ranges. Is a cold front forecast, if so when is expected to arrive and with what change in conditions? Be sure to check the marine forecast if you are near the coast. What are temperatures likely to be? It may be fine now but do you need to be in a 4/3 mm wetsuit later on today? Cold fronts can bring a dramatic drop in air temperature. Read the weather analysis to better understand what is bringing the wind in the first place in your area. IMPORTANT: Kiteboarders have been flown into trouble by gusts less than 15 mph above background windspeed. It doesn’t have to spike to 60 mph for you to be injured. Not all weather events will carry warnings, with some being quite localized. It is up to kiteboarders to try to anticipate conditions even if there are no excessive wind warnings posted.

2. Checkout the Sat. imagery at: (USA) and (Canada).

Use the loop function if available to get a feeling for movement and obvious development. Click on your area to get a better picture of local activity. Is there a line of clouds (possible squall line), shown at the leading edge of the front?

3. Checkout color radar to look for CURRENT storm cells and direction of travel of clouds at: (USA) and (Canada).

Be sure to scope out your area and areas up stream through which the cold front is moving. See some bright colored stuff? Is it fairly narrow at the leading edge of the front (as in the case of a squall line) or is it spread around? Avoid the brightly colored stuff as it can represent violent storms. The green stuff can also punch out some gusts too, enough to loft you so don't get complacent about that color either. Relate what you are seeing to what appears on the Satellite image. More about more in depth radar interpretation appears on the above websites.

4. Checkout realtime winds at: and local websites

Look over your area and those areas that the front is or has recently passed over, ALWAYS. Look at the individual wind records for stations to see if there are some strong gust spikes and iratic direction changes such as shown above. Try to relate these unstable winds to what you saw in the satellite and radar images. Are you dealing with a narrow strip of unstable weather with a squall line or is it more of a sudden boost in wind with a dry front?

5. While you're at the beach, keep your eyes open for signs of the onset of frontal winds. ALWAYS be aware of the wind, clouds, lines of white caps, ripples, direction, gusts, etc., regardless of season. It will help you to get the better rides and perhaps avoid a bad go to.

AVOID having a kite up during the onset of a strong front with associated change in winds. This has been a common practice among mariners for a long time. Of course not all fronts are kick butt, so what kind do you KNOW FOR A FACT you have moving in? Who knows for sure, it is best to err on the side of caution. If you see signs of a front coming, advancing white water, cloud masses, a ripple line, etc. It might be good to land and secure until it is past. Of course with ripple and white water lines, by the time you see them you may have less than few minutes before the winds spike. ALSO, you may need to RIG DOWN to be able to ride once and if the frontal winds spike up.

Check this stuff before you ride, always. Learn to relate what you saw online vs. what developed at the beach to build your weather sense. Talk to local fishermen, sailors and other long time nautical types that pay attention to the weather to learn more about your local conditions.

Sounds complicated? Not really, you can blast through the steps listed above fairly rapidly. Most riders I know are wind junkies and knowing what brings the blow stuff is just another part of the obsession. So why not dive in and get a handle on what brings the joy and the dodgy bits that need to be avoided. Further information related to this article appears at:

Get plugged into weather where you ride. You will be glad you did. There is a lot to know to kiteboard, some of the stuff listed above is just part of it.


**Analysis of the storm that resulted in the snow kiteboarder fatality at Alberta Beach
FKA, Inc.

transcribed by:
Rick Iossi
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