The legendary winds of Squamish

Squamish is widely known as the windsport capital of Canada for its steady and predictable winds. These winds are due to the unique combination of local geographic features that combine with the summer sun to create anabatic, or thermal, wind.

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Why is there always wind in Squamish?

The community of Squamish is located at the head of Howe Sound, a large basin of water extending inland from Georgia Straight and narrowing into a fjord, forming a northern panhandle. From the fjord, a valley continues inland leading to the communities of Whistler, Pemberton and Lillooet.

In the summer, as the morning sun rises in the sky, the land within this valley begins to heat, which warms the air adjacent to the land. The warming air begins to rise, and cooler, denser air from Howe Sound is pulled up the valley to replace the rising air.

What may seem like undiscernible airflow in areas around Vancouver and southern Howe Sound consolidates as it funnels into the panhandle. The effect of funnelling the airflow between the towering mountains that surround the narrow fjord is called a venturi - a well understood phenomenon that causes windspeed to increase when drawn through a narrow passage - creating perfect and predictable sailing conditions almost everyday throughout the summer.

What are the patterns of Squamish wind?

The summer anabatic winds are referred to as inflow winds by the locals. They are most common from mid-spring until mid-fall when the sun is highest in the sky. On cool summer nights and during the winter months, the process will reverse, forming katabatic, or outflow winds.

Because the winds are generated by the radient heating of land, mornings are relatively calm, with inflow winds typically starting before noon, peaking mid-afternoon, and diminishing as the sun sets over the Tantalus Mountains to the west.

How can I predict the wind?

Physics plays the biggest role when forecasting local Squamish winds. Locals will keep an eye on the temperature gradient, or difference in temperatures, between Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, Pemberton and Lillooet. Warmer inland temperatures will trigger the convective process of rising air, reducing air pressure, and generating inflow winds. The greater the temperature gradient, the stronger the wind.

On the rare summer days when Vancouver experiences extreme heat, or when clouds or smoke prevent the sun from warming the inland valley, the tempature gradient will flatten or even invert, and the winds of Squamish take a well earned break.