Wind rose: the winds of the Mediterranean and how to recognize them


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Wind Rose
Wind Rose

A true sailor needs to know the wind rose so that he can interpret the signs nature gives us when the weather is about to change. In two installments, we reveal them all to you… Speaking of meteorology, how many kinds of winds are there? And what are the elements that a good captain should learn about both when he or she is at sea, but also when he or she is in port, perhaps about to cast off the moorings?


From a meteorological point of view, wind can be regarded as the displacement of a collection of particles. Each particle is animated by a single proper motion and has within it extremely homogeneous characteristics. The size of these particles is usually a few cubic centimeters while their mass is significantly smaller. Indeed, it only takes a slight change in atmospheric pressure to generate the displacement of large quantities of these particles and, consequently, winds of varying magnitude.

Air behaves like a fluid that moves under the effect of continuous pressure changes. Instead, the intensity of winds depends on a more complex system of forces that include variables such as atmospheric pressure, rotational motion of the Earth’s axis, temperature and humidity. It is for this reason that, According to the peculiar characteristics of these variables found over the Italian seas, certain winds are the predominant ones in terms of direction and intensity among all those that can spring up in the atmosphere. These are listed in the wind rose: sirocco, libeccio, mistral, tramontana and grecale.

The compass rose (image taken from wikipedia)


Characterized by coming from the SE direction, the sirocco is a wind whose onset usually precedes the arrival of a disturbance by 12 to 24 hours. The average intensity of its blowing is about 15-20 knots and it has the peculiarity of lasting steadily even for several days. Its other characteristics are that it is very wet and raises considerable swell on the sea. This characteristic gives rise to the phenomenon of high water in Venice and the northern Adriatic.


The libeccio, on the other hand, is the wind that comes from the SO direction; it is characterized by the fact that it almost always blows very strongly and in gusts that can reach as high as 40 knots. In front of the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy it normally raises a lot of waves and can be among the most dangerous for boaters with small to medium-sized boats.


Also known by its French name of mistral, the mistral is the wind that blows from the NW and mainly follows cold fronts of disturbances. Precisely because of this, it is characterized by rather dry air and associated with overcast skies with cumuliform clouds, as well as thunderstorm manifestations and sudden temperature decreases. It can reach an intensity of 40 or 50 knots and cross and make the already rough southwesterly sea even more dangerous. This is why it is particularly feared by sailors. A typical case of mistral presence in the coastal areas of the northern Tyrrhenian Sea is the passage over Italy of a cold air front coming precisely from the northwest.


In contrast, the tramontana is the cold wind blowing from the N, especially at times when a disturbance has just dissipated. For this reason, with north wind the sky is usually always clear and very clear. It is mainly found on the seas of northern Italy, namely Ligurian and Upper Adriatic.


The grecale wind is a northeast wind and is characteristic of a rapidly approaching bad season. In the northern Adriatic area on the coasts of Friuli Venezia Giulia and Croatian Istria it is normally named bura. It occurs under particular pressure conditions.



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