What Is a Sea Breeze?

Have you ever experienced a warm, sunny beach day that started quiet and windless, only to have a steady breeze and towering clouds appear in the mid-afternoon? 

Or have you checked the forecast, expecting a lack of wind, only to find out you’ve missed a session on the water? The sea breeze is to blame. 

This afternoon wind is notorious in warmer weather; windsport enthusiasts love it, while paddle boarders and beachgoers may find it frustrating. But what really is it? How can you plan around it? What creates it? 

We’ve delved deep into everything you need to know about a sea breeze so you can plan a beach day, watersports session, or paddle around it.

1. What is a sea breeze? 

A sea breeze is given to the name of the wind and weather system that takes place in warmer months. Affected by the unequal heating of the land and the sea, it usually comes into effect during the afternoon once the land has heated up.

Not only does it bring movement to the area, but it can also lead to a temperature drop due to the heat from the land being replaced by the cooling of the sea.

In terms of weather, a sea breeze is relatively small, affecting the local area and extending a few miles out to sea. The front tends to stick close to land where the cool and heat mix. Sometimes, it can cause a larger-scale front, leading to significant cold fronts that can develop into thunderstorms.

2. How does a sea breeze form?

During the summer, a breeze will form due to the unequal heating rates of the land and the water. This unequal heating causes two different pressure systems next to each other. The water, which heats slowly due to its depth, creates a higher pressure.

In the morning, the sun begins to warm the sea and the land at the same rate; however, since the sea takes considerably longer to heat than the land, it creates two different pressure systems.

The land, which heats easily due to its ability to retain and radiate heat back into the atmosphere, creates a low-pressure system. The sea, which remains cooler, has high pressure created by a dense pull down by gravity.

While a low-pressure system rises, a high-pressure system will spread to replace it. So essentially, as the warm air over the land rises, the cool air from the sea will come to replace it, causing a breeze.

Video by MetService

The strength of the breeze can depend greatly on the difference between the temperature of the land and the sea. When the land heats quickly, this can create a strong sea breeze.

However, it is not all about the land becoming hot; it’s about the difference between the two elements. So, if the sea is particularly cold, then the land doesn’t have to heat much for the pressure imbalance to come into force.

Kitesurfer about to launch in a sea breeze on the shore’s edge in Big Bay Cape Town 

3. Why can’t we experience sea breezes in the winter?

Because sea breezes are associated with the temperature difference between the land and the sea, they are typically associated with the summer as the land heats up quicker than the sea. In the winter, the temperature contrast is generally reduced, which reduces the chances of a breeze. 

4. When does a sea breeze start?

Due to the need for the land temperature to heat up, it is typical to experience a sea breeze in the late morning to early afternoon. However, this can vary across locations, seasons and local effects. 

5. Effect of the sea breeze on watersports (kitesurf, windsurfer sailing, etc) 

For watersports, understanding the sea breeze and when to expect can maximise your time on the water or make the most of your local spot. Rather than just looking out for the knots on the forecast, you can start to anticipate when a sea breeze will come into force and take advantage of it.

This may mean heading to a spot earlier than the forecast because it has been a particularly warm morning or knowing the sea is colder than usual, making the breeze stronger. 

6. What windsurfing, kiting, and sailing spots rely on a sea breeze? 

The sea breeze is an important factor in wind conditions around the world. Many spots across Europe and the UK are consistent summer wind destinations, hinting at their reliance on the sea breeze.

Windfoilers, windsurfers and kitesurfers making the most of Tarifa’s sea breeze

One of the most famous spots for a sea breeze is in Tarifa. Tarifa’s Poniente wind, which is primarily westerly, is created by a sea breeze. Due to the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, there is a significant temperature difference between the sea and the land, creating a powerful breeze that forms in the afternoons.

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