What is a squall?

Squall: a sudden and violent increase in wind speed associated with torrential rains showers, snow, or thunderstorms | Photo: Shutterstock

Squalls are extremely recurrent wind events with unpredictable consequences. They frequently occur in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

A squall is a sudden, sharp, and violent increase in wind speed that is commonly associated with torrential rain showers, snow, or thunderstorms.

Squalls are accompanied by drastic and substantial changes in cloud patterns, cold fronts, and severe weather events. They can last for several minutes and may produce large waves.

These turbulent high winds can be easily spotted because of the distinctively shaped clouds that anticipate them.

When squalls are gone, rainbows and sunny skies take over, and the average wind speed decreases quickly.

Squalls are most likely to form in areas of strong mid-level height falls

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a squall reflects a wind increase of at least 8 m/s, with a top speed of at least 11 m/s, that lasts for at least one minute.

HMS Victory: sailing through a squall | Art: Thomas Buttersworth

Squalls vs. Wind Gusts

Squall lines are organized lines of thunderstorms, often associated with cold fronts, that can be clearly spotted and identified by observing the formation of shelf clouds and roll clouds.

So, what is the difference between a squall and a wind gust

A squall is a sustained high-wind phenomenon that may include several gusts.

Squalls are usually more dangerous than gusts because they last longer and are usually linked with extreme weather events.

If you're on a sailboard, you can easily control the effect of a gust, whereas if a squall is coming your way, you will have trouble handling the rig.

Squalls can be especially tricky and dangerous for sailors, airplane pilots, fishermen, windsurfers, and kitesurfers.

Learn how the wind is formed.

  • Dutch environmental activist and windsurfer Merijn Tinga, also known as the "Plastic Soup Surfer," has made an audacious journey from Oslo to London, braving the North Sea's currents and winds, to call attention to the pervasive problem of plastic pollution.