A gale is a strong wind; the word is typically used as a descriptor in nautical contexts. The U.S. National Weather Service defines a gale as sustained surface winds moving at a speed of between 34 and 47 knots (63–87 km/h, 17.5–24.2 m/s or 39–54 miles/hour).[1] Forecasters typically issue gale warnings when winds of this strength are expected. In the United States, a gale warning is specifically a maritime warning; the land-based equivalent in National Weather Service warning products is a wind advisory.

After a Gale Wreckers by James Hamilton
Gale warning flag

Other sources use minima as low as 28 knots (52 km/h; 14 m/s; 32 mph), and maxima as high as 90 knots (170 km/h; 46 m/s; 100 mph). Through 1986, the National Hurricane Center used the term “gale” to refer to winds of tropical force for coastal areas, between 33 knots (61 km/h; 17 m/s; 38 mph) and 63 knots (117 km/h; 72 mph; 32 m/s). The 90 knots (170 km/h; 46 m/s; 100 mph) definition is very non-standard. A common alternative definition of the maximum is 55 knots (102 km/h; 63 mph; 28 m/s).[2]

The most common way of measuring wind force is with the Beaufort scale[3] which defines a gale as wind from 50 kilometres per hour (14 m/s) to 102 kilometres per hour (28 m/s). It is an empirical measure for describing wind speed based mainly on observed sea conditions. On the original 1810 Beaufort wind force scale, there were four different "gale" designations whereas generally today there are two gale forces, 8 and 9, and a near gale 7:

Wind forceOriginal nameCurrent namekm/hm/smphknotsMean knotsSea state
7Moderate galeNear gale50–6114–1732–3828–3330Rough
8Fresh galeGale62–7417–2039–4634–4037Very Rough
9Strong galeSevere Gale/ Strong Gale (UK)75–8821–2447–5441–4744High
10Whole galeStorm89–10225–2855–6348–5552Very High


The word gale is derived from the Middle English gale, a general word for wind of any strength, even a breeze. This word is probably of North Germanic origin, related to Icelandic gola (breeze) and Danish gal (furious, mad),[4] which are both from Old Norse gala (to sing), from Proto-Germanic *galaną (to roop, sing, charm), from Proto-Indo-European *gʰel- (to shout, scream, charm away). One online etymology website suggests that the word gale is derived from an earlier spelling, gail, which it claims is of uncertain origin.[5]


  1. National Weather Service Glossary, s.v. "gale".
  2. Glossary of Meteorological Terms Archived 2008-12-11 at the Wayback Machine, NovaLynx Corporation.
  3. "Beaufort wind force scale". Met Officewebsite.
  4. Etymology of gale
  5. "Online Etymology Dictionary". Retrieved 2014-03-23.
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