West Coast Wind Blog: Unending easterly winds for most of the west coast.

by Mike Godsey, mail: mike AT iwindsurf

Recent days have seen cool powerful easterly winds in the western Gorge, powerful Santa Ana winds for Southern California, nagging wind killing NE winds just aloft over the Bay Area.

And for the great majority of kiters and windsurfers, these easterly winds are useless.

But there is one region that really benefits from this pattern. This animation shows the wind hero for Baja and the wind culprit for the rest of the west coast.

Note how the topography of the Gorge makes the wind pure east. While to backbone of the Baja Peninsula makes the wind there more NNW.

Check out the high pressure and all the winds spiraling out from the High.

All these easterly winds fades the next day or so as the high pressure finally exits eastward.

The wind in all these


West Coast Wind Blog: Baja’s East Cape 5 basic wind patterns

by Mike Godsey, Mike AT iwindsurf.com

About 25 years ago, when the first windsurfers “discovered” La Ventana, “Weather Man” Tom and I started studying Baja winds using the daily data collection form you see in this first image.

Since then my main goal was to figure out what caused the La Ventana and Los Barriles, located on Baja’s East Cape, to have the strongest most reliable winter winds in Baja so we could forecast the winds rather than just waiting for wind.

image #1

This first image shows the sort of daily records we kept of variables we tracked to get insight into the wind patterns. One thing that is clear… most of the models do a poor job of forecasting Baja winds. Just check out the notice on the Capt. Kirks web page. A bit exaggerated but it gets the flavor.

Through the years I have concluded that the causes of these highly focused Baja winds are complex. But the short answer is that many places on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja receive the rare very strong El Norte winds.

But most of the time the El Norte winds are relatively weak low to mid-teens range.

So to get winds reliable winds above the low teens you need special topographic features and a combo of winds to augment the El Norte winds to create at least upper-teens wind.

And Los Barriles, and especially La Ventana, have near perfect topography for frequent reliable winds in the mid-teens to mid 20’s range.

Overview of Baja’s East Cape topography:

image #2

Baja is a 760 mile long Peninsula with a mountainous backbone and 1900 miles of coastline.

Baja has a relatively cool Pacific ocean to the west and a much warmer Sea of Cortez to the east.

La Ventana and Los Barriles are located towards the tip of the Peninsula about a 3-hour drive north of the tourist traps of Los Cabos.

Looking at these graphics you can see that both locations have large valleys downwind that impact the local sea breezes and the synoptic scale El Norte wind.

La Ventana’s Los Planes Valley is surrounded by mountains of 3 sides which means that expanding air heated from the sun has nowhere to go but up. And this creates a local low-pressure zone and a strong local pressure gradient from the Sea of Cortez towards the valley.

Unfortunately, the valley downwind from Los Barriles has mountains on only 2 sides and is open to the south. So some of the expanding air “leaks” to the out so this valley produces a weaker local pressure gradient.

This means that Los Barriles has weaker local sea breezes.

However, Los Barriles sticks further out into the Sea of Cortez so it receives stronger El Norte wind and larger swell near the beaches

Five basic wind patterns of La Ventana, El Sargento and Los Barriles

Let’s examine each of these patterns using imagery:

Pattern 1: The strong El Norte (North) wind:

image #3

The strong El Norte has the most powerful winds but it is the least common of the 5 winds patterns and for

last 15 years it has become increasingly rare.

Big El  Norte winds occur after a storm passes over California. Then in the wake of the storm, a large high pressure often settles into the Great Basin.  You can see the start of this process in this animation.  Watch how isobars tighten over the Sea of Cortez as the high pressure moves into the 4 corners.

The perfect location for strong Baja winds is for the high pressure to be centered over the 4 corners area.

With high pressure to the north of the Sea of Cortez and low pressure to the south strong winds rip down the entire Sea of Cortez.

Usually, major El Norte winds arrive in the middle of the night and dawn sees very strong winds just outside and large building surf on the beaches.

El Norte surface winds are often accompanied by strong winds just aloft and as these wind hit the cliffs and points of the rugged Baja coast they become turbulent and transfer a bit of momentum to the surface winds that make the wind in your kite or sail UP AND DOWN and shifty.

image #4

This pattern is easy to forecast since models track such large scale pressure system accurately.

Pattern 2: Mild El Norte (North) wind + local sea breezes pattern:

In this pattern, there are mild El Norte winds in the mid to upper-teens range. By themselves, these winds would mostly stay way outside. But if the skies are blue the inland valleys heat creating a local pressure gradient.

That pressure gradient does 2 things.

1. It causes the El Norte wind to curve in towards the beaches.

2.  it creates a local sea breezes in the low to weak upper-teens range that combines with the El Norte winds. The combo of these winds reaches the upper-teens to low 20’s range.

The key to this pattern is the blue skies or at least patchy clouds inbound towards the inland valleys.

Pattern 3: El Norte winds + weak NW wind from NPH on the Pacific side

This pattern is most common in El Nino years. It happens when high pressure in the Great Basin creates moderate El Norte winds which curve to the beaches due to the local pressure gradient. But as the day progresses the wind winds inside become very gusty or shifty or very weak. This is especially true at La Ventana and especially at El Sargento north of La Ventana. While Los Barriles typically has steadier winds during a strong El Norte.

This animation below shows why this happens. Notice in the left image at 8AM the El Norte winds flow smoothly down the Sea of Cortez. If the North Pacific High and its NW winds are far from Baja this smooth flow continues through the afternoon. So the El Norte winds are steady and close to shore while the big swell is smooth and starts only a few hundred yards from shore.

image #7

However, if the North Pacific High’s NW winds are close to the Pacific side, as in this animation, there is a problem. As the interior of Baja heats up the NPH’s NW winds are sucked through gaps in the mountains of Baja. Looking at the 3PM image you can see this happening. This NW flow from the Pacific tends to push the El Norte winds further from shore.  This NW wind is turbulent so the El Norte winds seem gusty and shifty as the 2 winds interact. This NW flow also causes a small cross chop to develop over the normally big smooth El Norte swell. Even without computer models, you can anticipate this effect.

Pattern 4: Just local sea breezes and NO El Norte.

image #8

image #9

This is the most local pattern and produces the weakest winds except occasional wind drought.  As the inland valleys heat and warm the air a low-pressure zone is created. This air rises and heads seaward for several miles where it cools, descends and is attracted to the low-pressure inland. If you kite far enough out you will run out of wind

The key to this wind is mostly blue skies over the inland valleys. If the weather is fair and cloudless and there is no hint of an El Norte Baja’s East Cape is likely to see these low to weak upper-teen local sea breezes.

However, if there is a storm to the north or if the subtropical jet stream is overhead things get dicey. In this situation, we need a large hole to develop in the inbound clouds from about noon to mid-afternoon that will allow heating inland. And as you can see in these images the cloud pattern can change fast. So if the forecast suggests local sea breezes your best bet is to watch the skies to the east over the valley

If you have binoculars and a good view to the north you will be able to see a dark blue line on the horizon that is the sea breeze

image #10

front moving towards the beach. You can see such a front in image #2 above.

Pattern 5: No El Norte winds but strong NW wind from the North Pacific High + local sea breezes

This is an uncommon pattern and since the NW winds have to travel over relatively warm terrain and take a circuitous pathway across the Peninsula they are usually weak, shifty, up and down with an unfavorable offshore angle.

The next animation shows this pattern in action. First, note that there is NO El Norte wind coming from the Great Basin.

Instead, there is very strong NW wind from the North Pacific High ripping down the Pacific side of Baja.

Since the Sea of Cortez is relatively warm compared to the Pacific there is a slight pressure gradient that curves and sucks some of the NW wind over the Peninsula anywhere where there is a low spot in the mountainous backbone of Baja.

image #11

I have highlighted some of the places where this happen in the animation. Notice how some of this wind comes across the Peninsula and hits the La Ventana and Los Barriles area. You can see how this will be offshore wind.

However, if there is strong heating in the inland valleys near La Ventana this NW wind may curve into N. wind and provide strong wind just outside.

At the beach, the wind will probably be up and down and shifty since some of the NW wind leaks over the mountains just inland.

El Nino & La Nina:

The relative frequency of these 5 wind patterns varies from year to year. And the relative frequency of each pattern seems strongly dependent upon El Nino vs La Nina vs Neutral year. This is because the storm track moves further southward in El Nino years. While the average storm track is more northward in La Nina years.

The more northerly or more southerly route of the average storm track is pivotal in determining the location of the high pressure relative to the Great Basin. And this, in turn, determines the strength of the El Norte wind.

El Nino and La Nina also impact the pathway of the subtropical jetstream and its clouds which in turn influence the local sea breezes.










West Coast Wind Blog: March 12 brings strong winds to entire west coast!

Strong North Pacific High + low pressure in Great Basin + strong winds aloft = Epic winds!

by Mike Godsey, mike AT iwindsurf.com

Strong wind ruled the west coast on March 12, 2019. Here is a visual summary of the causes and the results:

  1. Note the North Pacific High off the west coast.
  2. Look at how the NPH’s isobars stack up along the west coast creating strong NW wind.
  3. Check out the low-pressure zone in the Great Basin creating a strong pressure gradient.
  4. Note how the NW wind curves inland towards the low pressure in the Basin.
  5. Check out how many of the sensor in the San Francisco Bay Area have winds in the low 20’s to upper 30’s
  6. 3rd. Ave had peak average winds to 37 mph.
  7. And Southern California had sites with winds in the upper-teens to even mid 20’s.
  8. C St. in Ventura had average winds to 26 mph.
  9. A bit factor in the strong surface wind was the strong gusts to 40 mph just aloft over the Bay.
  10. And Southern California had similar winds aloft.
  11. On most days kites way outnumber windsurfers at 3rd. Ave. but not late Tuesday afternoon.
  12. An for a change the Gorge was at the bottom of wind totem pole excepts for Dougs that hit a respectable 29 mph.

West Coast Wind Blog: Eddy & North Pacific High divert wind from Bay Area

Weak winds prevail today as eddy spins.

by Mike Godsey, mike AT iwindsurf.com

There is a robust North Pacific High today stretching from Hawaii to Puget Sound. But it has an extension or ridge that is moving towards the Columbia River Gorge. This means that the North Pacific High’s surface NW winds are more NNE over the ocean rather than the typical NW. This flow direction helps create a large eddy like low pressure off the San Francisco coast. So with no NW wind and low pressure near us the winds will be limp except for some SE winds flowing towards the eddy. You can see all  of  this in this infrared satellite animation I made this morning.

West Coast Wind Blog: Winds just aloft jazz up Baja surface winds.

by Mike Godsey

mike@ikitesurf.com, Photos & Videos

Did you notice how the El Norte this morning forecast upper-teens to low 20’s with periods much stronger especially outside? The baseline for our winds was relatively strong El

Norte winds from the 4 corners with a bit of help from the North Pacific High and our local thermal winds.

However today the models projected much stronger winds just aloft up at the 975mb level which is about 1000 feet aloft.

Since there is topography near that height upwind of us those winds aloft would, in theory, becomes turbulent which would allow some of that stronger energy wind to transfer momentum to the surface winds. Hence the gusts well into the mid to upper 20’s.

ich would allow some of that stronger energy wind to transfer momentum to the surface winds. Hence the gusts well into the mid to upper 20’s.

You can see these winds in this animation. And the two wind graphs show the strong gusts.

West Coast Wind Blog: Clouds weaken local thermal wind

by Mike Godsey, mike@iwindsurf.com

For more photos from Baja and the west coast click this link.

Sometimes I just have to put weasel words in the forecast even when almoat everything looks promising in the early morning. In today’s forecast, Thursday, February 21, 2019, those weasel words were “If heavy clouds to the west do not come over us the local thermal winds reach the mid to mild upper-teens strongest at Rasta and weaker for La Ventana and weaker yet for Los Barriles”

I had to put those weasel words into the forecast since there is a vague cold front sweeping down Baja from a storm system moving in to Southern California and Baja Norte. And at dawn there were hints of some of those cloud not too far away from Baja’s East Cape. And if they arrived early it would kill the wind.

By 9:30AM it was clear to me that some of those clouds were getting too close so I issued this to the forecast: “UPDATE at 9:30 AM. The most recent satellite imagery is showing some heavy convective clouds about 100 miles to the west of La Ventana and their trajectory could bring them over our mountains and perhaps over the Los Planes valley which would really weaken the wind today.”

As you can see in my annotated satellite image for today those weasel words were justified as heavy clouds inland almost totally killed the thermal winds for Los Barriles. While frequent tiny patches of cumulus clouds from the west evaporated over the western Los Planes Valley much of the morning while a swath of heavier clouds closer to La Ventana was the final nail in the coffin for getting winds above the weak low teens.

West Coast Wind Blog: NORTH PACIFIC HIGH. If you kite/sail the winds of the west coast don’t read this blog!

by Mike Godsey, Mike AT ikitesurf.com

If you ply the waters of the west coast of the USA from The Gorge to Punta San Carlos, Baja Norte you know the winds of the North Pacific High intimately since they are the critical part of your summer wind machine. So you already know all about the North Pacific High and the only thing puzzling you about the North Pacific High is why and how it has impacted Baja’s East Cape winds this winter when it normally is not a major player.

But if you live east of the Sierra Nevada to Europe you are wondering why there is so much mention of the North Pacific High this season.

So here is a brief introduction to the North Pacific High. And if you want more detail you can explore this link.

Looking at this animation it is easy to find the North Pacific High. Notice how this dome of high pressure air has winds spiraling around it in a clockwise fashion. Unlike the high-pressure zones that sometimes appear in the Great Basin/4 corners zone to produce El Norte winds the NPH does not move steadily west to east and then disappear. Rather the NPH is a semi-permanent fixture in the north Pacific. It moves more southward in the winter and more northward in the summer while expanding and contracting in response to other weather events.

Frequently in a El Nino year the North Pacific High is larger and moves closer to the west coast of Baja and the USA. Notice in the model animation of the North Pacific High today Monday, February 18, 2019 how the NPH has isobars tight along the west coast of California and Baja. This is creating strong N to NW winds in that region.

Now look carefully and you can see that some of that wind flows over the Baja Peninsula into the Sea of Cortez as NW to NNW wind. Since that is a side offshore direction for Baja’s East Cape launch sites we need good heating in our inland valleys to curve that wind into N. wind that fills into the beaches.

Over the next few days a lobe of the North Pacific High slides over Baja and our winds gradually weaken.

Now notice how there is very little wind in the center of the North Pacific High.

West Coast Wind Blog: (UPDATED) NW wind from the North Pacific High curves to La Ventana/Los Barriles.

by Mike Godsey, mike AT kitesurf.com

Part ONE: Today, Sunday, February 17, 2019 the North Pacific High is pumping wind into the Sea of Cortez from the Pacific side of Baja. You can see this happening in Part 2 of this blog below. Since this Pacific wind is largely NW it arrives as side-offshore wind which is unfavorable for almost every site.

Fortunately, we have blue skies and as that heats the inland valleys like the Los Planes valley west of La Ventana a local pressure gradient is created that gradually curves the NW wind into North to even NNE wind. Since La Ventana has a very large valley in close proximity this curving effect works best there. While El Sargento and Los Barriles are more likely to have up and down and even shifty winds Inside. (This is an unusual wind pattern since usually strong winds down the Sea of Cortez are triggered by high pressure in the Great Basin NOT the North Pacific High.)

The first animation using model output captures this process pretty well for today. Note that the left side of the animation is for 8AM. The wind is relatively weak near La Ventana and El Sargento and you can see that the inbound wind has a NW to NNW component. The right image for 3 PM shows how the inland valley heating has 1. Curved the winds to a more N. direction and 2. local thermal winds have added to the wind.

Part TWO: Today, Saturday, February 16, 2019, the North Pacific High has NW wind roaring down the west coast from San Francisco, Calif. to Abreojos, Baja Sur. Mid morning the San Francisco Ocean Buoy has winds averaging 26 knots, while the Santa Barbara ocean buoys is averaging 22 knots and the sensor at Mag. Bay, Baja Sur is already at 21 knots.

But how does all this wind on the Pacific side help the sites on the Sea of Cortez side of Baja?

This animation from the ikitesurf.com LIVE WIND product shows the current sensor readings at 11 AM today superimposed with the hourly output of the 3 km HRRR model wind forecast. While models are far for perfect for very local winds they do a much better job on large scale winds especially over water.

So in this animation notice the powerful wind roaring down the west coast and the 28 knot average wind at the ocean buoys west of Baja and other wind reported on the west coast of Baja. But look at the area along the Baja and Arizona USA border. Notice that there is only faint to zero northerly wind coming from the USA Great Basin. Most winters it is this high pressure that makes our stronger winds. But NOT this week. Let’s check out how this happens.

Now look carefully at the modeled winds over Baja. Notice how that everywhere there is a valley or low spot in through the mountainous backbone of Baja the NW ocean wind curves over the land and pours into the Sea of Cortez as northerly wind. Unfortunately this means our inbound winds have a slightly side offshore angle at times. And, this wind has gone over relatively warm land which adds a gust factor. To get these winds to curve and fill into the beaches reliably we need and pressure gradient towards our iinland valleys. And the blue skies should deliver that as the sun heats the land!

WEST COAST WIND BLOG: North Pacific High plays atypical big role in our winds this “El Nino” year.

by Mike Godsey, mikeATiwindsurf.com

I hope this is not your first year kiting or windsurfing on Baja’s East Cape. If it is your first year don’t let first impressions count much in thinking about a return visit. Normally heavy rains, frequent heavy clouds, shifty up and down winds are uncommon during the winter.

Rather the winds are usually a mixture of very steady mid to upper-teen local sea breezes and combo upper-teens to low 20’s combo days when the local wind combines with mild El Norte winds from the 4 corners region of the USA. Then every few weeks we have a big El Norte wind event as a huge high-pressure zone develops in the Great Basin to 4 corners region.

But this has been a borderline El Niño season with the storm track a bit more southerly than usual hence the clouds and sometimes rain. Meanwhile in El Niño years the subtropical jet is often over Baja bringing high thin clouds that take the edge off the local thermal winds. And the El Norte wind often only blows in the southern half of the Sea of Cortez hence the often small swell.

But this year the big news was the role the North Pacific High played in our wind.

If you ply the waters the west coast from Oregon to Punta San Carlos in the summer you think of the North Pacific High as being your main wind machine. But this winter the North Pacific High has often lurked west of Baja. And a bit of its NW wind has sometimes curved over the backbone of the Baja Peninsula as weak westerly wind. And this wind has often made the winds right at our beaches a bit UP AND DOWN and even shifty as it tries to push our northerly wind away from shore.

But today and the next few days the North Pacific High is going to be our major wind maker. Since these winds will be bit NNW rather than the normal N. direction they need good inland valleys heating to make them curve into our beaches as more northerly wind.

In this model animation, you can see the North Pacific High and the 2 storms that are distorting it and squeezing its isobars and NW wind towards Baja. The model output, at this time, suggests that most of the clouds that inhibit inland valleys heating stay to our north. So I am forecasting good but up and down winds for today, Friday, February 15, 2019, and the next week.

West Coast Wind Blog: Cloud hole jazzes up wind to forecast values.

As can see from the forecast headline screen shot the forecast for Saturday said mid to upper teens IF we got some holes in the heavy clouds otherwise the wind would stay way outside. Those winds seemed pretty likely at dawn and by noon I was chickening out on my forecast since the satellite image showed nary a hole in the inbound clouds. But by 3 pm the wind graphs were accelerating and the winds reached the upper-teens.

So what happened? Let’s let the following animation I made from the satellite imagery speak for itself.