How to Know When and Where to Ride
This is probably the most frustrating part of kiteboarding, especially if you are a weekend warrior like myself. Each season brings unique weather characteristics that will enhance or reduce your chances of scoring some rideable wind. NOAA will forecast marine weather conditions out seven days. I find that this graphic is the best place to start when looking for wind in the coming week: LakeMichiganForecast Click the arrows at the top of the chart to move through the days and then move your cursor over the table to see the weather condtions forecast for a particular time period. I look at the wind speed and direction cells to see what the low end wind is forecast to be and in which direction. The wind barbs on the graph over the lake point in the direction the wind is forecast to blow. The number of barbs on the wind barb indicate wind speed and the colors of the graph also indicate wind speed. Move over the wind gust cells to see the top end of the wind for the particular time period. In my experience, wind speed is almost always forecast to be higher by a couple knots than what usually happens at the beach. This could be NOAA just playing it safe or that the forecast is for offshore further from the beach.
Once you have set your sights on a day and time that looks good, you can check more regional forecast tables that have the same format:
Now that you have your region of the lake selected with the most accurate forecast available, consult our “Where to Ride” section and match up the forecast wind direction with our locations that give rideable wind directions at each spot. Watch the forecast everyday as the time gets closer, call your friends and get ready to ride. See you there!
Having said all of that, everyone knows that NOAA, just don’t know, or sometimes is seems that way. The more experience you get particular locations, the better you will understand how wind conditions actually turn out at certain locations.
Let’s talk about thermal wind. Understanding this or at least trying to, can score you a few more sessions that NOAA might miss in it’s forecast. Thermal wind is a phenomena that occurs when you have a nice sunny day that warms up the land next to the water. This causes the air over the land to rise and the colder air over the water to move in and take it’s place. On the beach you will get a side on wind direction. This happens just about every sunny day at the beach, but it takes a few more factors to line up to actually make a thermal wind strong enough for riding. First, the water has to be quite a bit colder than the air temperature. I’m gonna say at least 10 degrees. Secondly, you need a slight breeze to be present in a direction that will promote the thermal effect. Certain geographic locations encourage the thermal effect with certain breeze directions. In Muskegon for example, a slight N or NE breeze will rotate to NW when the thermal pull takes effect. In Manistee, a S breeze will rotate SSW when the thermal takes effect. This is because the breeze is warm and moving over land promoting even more rise in the air. Eventually, the temperature difference becomes great enough between water and land that the colder air gets “pulled” in, so the wind direction rotates out to move in from over the water and it’s on! The major points (LSP, BSP, and Betsie) experience a strong thermal pull because they are surrounded by more water. Finally, the initial breeze cannot be so “strong” that it neutralizes the temperature difference between water and land. Your best chance of getting the thermal wind is in the late spring and early summer because the water is still cold but the sun is getting stronger and heating the land more.
I am not a meteorologist and this is just my take on thermal wind, but when you get it, it is usually good and consistent from about 2 or 3 in the afternoon until 5 or 6 in the evening and it can turn on and off like a switch.
The fall is the prime season for Great Lakes kiteboarding. During the fall a lot of North to South and South to North wind is generated due to the rapid cooling of the earth in the north and relatively unstable and warm conditions in the south. The Great Lakes just happen to be in the middle of this. Temperature differences create wind and in the fall, there is a lot of that. Plus the lake water is still warm so riding can still be comfortable. The spring time can also generate these winds, but the water is still cold. Be careful however, when the gales come screaming 🙂
How Cold is Too Cold?
First ask yourself what is your skill level and how much time do you plan on spending in the water? Then, do you have sufficient rubber (wetsuit, hood, gloves, booties)? How wavy is it out? A good way to determine what is safe is to combine water temperature and air temperature together. The lowest most advanced riders will go out in is 80 degrees with water temperature and air temperature combined. This is really cold, when you also consider the wind chill factor. Intermediates will probably feel comfortable with 100 degree combined temperature and beginners probably won’t have a good time in water and air less then 120 degrees combined. If you are lucky enough to score some mid summer sessions with a combined temperature of 140 degress or more, ENJOY!!!!!
I recently found some information on fog and how and why it forms. It is good to be aware of the possibility of fog when planning to go out because it can ruin a session or potentially be dangerous if you find yourself out on the water and with zero visibility. Advection fog forms over lake Michigan when warm humid air passes over cold water. It can be predicted by looking at air temperature, dew point and water temperature. If the cold water cools the air temperature to the dew point, the humidity in the air will condense into fog. This is most likely to happen in the spring and early summer when the water temperature is still in the 40’s and 50’s.