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Chris Bedford: Valencia wind conditions in February

Chris Bedford
(May 18, 2009) When the New York courts confirmed the next America’s Cup Match between the defending club, Société Nautique De Genève (SNG), and the Challenger of Record, Golden Gate Yacht Club (GGYC),would be in February 2010, the next landmark decision would the location of the Match, which SNG must declare by August 2009.

Since Valencia, Spain was the site of the last America’s Cup Match, it is a likely candidate for the 2010 Deed of Gift contest between SNG and GGYC. Curious about the sailing conditions at this Mediterranean site in late winter, Scuttlebutt contacted Chris Bedford, who was the team meteorologist for BMW Oracle Racing for the last Cup, and is currently working for the Ericsson Racing Team in the Volvo Ocean Race. Here is Chris’ report:

An America’s Cup held off Valencia during the month of February will take place in conditions much more variable generally lighter than those experienced during the Challenger Series (which began Apr. 16) and the America’s Cup match (held June 24-July 3) in 2007. Additionally, rather than sailing just a few miles from the shore, the Deed of Gift courses are longer and may require sailing some considerable distance away from the shore, bringing some new weather and tactical challenges to the event.

A February series will be held in the cool months of winter instead of warmer Spring and early Summer. Average daytime maximum temperatures are around 61F (16C) while average minimums are near 41F (5C). The state of the atmosphere and ocean are quite different in terms of the thermodynamic and pressure gradients which are responsible for all winds. The thermal sea breeze conditions are typically poor in February. While it is not impossible for sea breezes to occur, those that do develop tend to be very weak and poorly formed. The sea surface temperature is near its seasonal minimum (around 7C) and the thermal input from the sun, while improving, is still weak given the time of year. Any sea breezes are late in forming, and don’t typically extend very far offshore.

In balance to the weaker sea breezes, there can be stronger and well formed overnight and morning land breezes and drainage winds. These winds form when overnight cool airs from the land flow out toward relatively warm areas over the Gulf of Valencia – essentially the reverse of a sea breeze. Unfortunately, these breezes take place during the darkness of early morning and may last only a couple hours into daylight. In addition, these winds land breeze and drainage winds decrease with distance from shore.

In February, best chances for more consistent winds may come from larger scale weather systems moving around Western Europe and the Western Mediterranean. While February can be an active month with both low and high pressure areas tending to be stronger than in summer – the time between them may be lengthy giving 2 or 3 days of wind followed by extended periods of lighter breezes. When strong low pressures pass to the north of Spain and push cold fronts across the country, one or two days of stronger west and northwest winds can develop. Normally, these offshore wind events arrive with relatively flat sea conditions.

Sometimes, strong low pressure will form over the Western Mediterranean east or southeast of the Gulf of Valencia. These systems are sometimes responsible for fresh or even strong Northeast winds that can last a couple days or more. These weather patterns often bring unsettled weather to the region with rain and squalls likely. In addition, these weather systems bring the roughest seas to Valencia. Thanks to a relatively long fetch from the NE, rough swells of 2m, 3m and sometimes more can develop.

The famous Mistral winds do not normally directly impact Valencia. In fact, even with 40+ knots of Mistral blowing in the Gulf of Lyon down to Palma, some 130 miles to the east, the Gulf of Valencia can be in a shadow of little breeze or even a slight southeast/south return flow. The exception is a branch of the Mistral which sometimes flows out the River Ebre delta, about halfway between Valencia and Barcelona. A river of strong, cold, northwest wind can turn down the coast and flow across the Gulf – strongest in the morning, but also lasting in the afternoon. Mistral winds produce significant waves over the Gulf of Lyon down to northern Palma and these seas propagate into the Gulf as a rough swell.

Chris Bedford, CCM
Chief Meteorologist
Sailing Weather Service, LLC
T: +1 888 4SAILWX (472 4599) ext. 100

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