Howard Prairie Sailing Conditions

For a Cascade mountain lake at 4,525', Howard Prairie Lake enjoys reliable wind that is clean and steady throughout the sailing season (Mid-May to the end of September).  Consistent winds allowed RYC to abandon only one race during the entire 2009 and 2010 seasons out of ~60 races.  No races were abandoned or cancelled in 2011.  No races were abandoned during 2012 or 2013.  No starts were cancelled during all of 2009, 2010 and 2011 but the commodores cup racing in the middle of august has been cancelled in 2012 and 2013.

NOAA forecasts for the lake are available at: http://forecast.weather.gov/

Click on the "hourly weather graph" in the lower right-hand corner for wind details.  This detail forecast tends to be pretty reflective of timing of conditions, but winds from the prevailing direction tend to be ~3-6kt more than forecast on the lake surface.

The prevailing wind pattern is SE from dawn till about 9:30am in the 3kt-7kt range.  From late morning to around 11:30 the wind tends to be very light.  The prevailing north-northwest wind begins blowing between noon and 1:15PM.  The north-northwest winds build quickly from the north to south end of the lake.  Winds are usually in the 8kt-17kt range with gusts that are 3-6kts above the average wind speed.  Winds typically peak around 3:30PM but continue to blow NNW until around 7:30PM.  About a third of the sailing season days, the winds start from the north-northwest first thing in the morning which usually indicates stronger winds in the afternoon and very clean winds all day. 

Race strategy for prevailing conditions is straightforward.   Look for lifts along the east shore as the gusts roll through.  The RYC course layout tends to be starboard favored (on the windward legs) due to the shape of the lake, direction of the wind and necessary mark locations.  The wind can get a little funky near the port corner of the windward mark; otherwise there are no places on the lake that consistently have better wind.

Approximately 15% of the sailing days on the season do not follow the prevailing wind pattern.  These patterns consist of a mix of light and variable wind, frontal winds from the southwest, or frontal winds from the west.  The light and variable wind pattern is typically associated with a strong off-shore flow (easterly) the day before there is a transition to strong on-shore flow (approaching front).  The light and variable conditions typically last a day.  The southwest frontal winds are associated with a strong approaching front and can last a day or more.  The southwest winds can average anywhere from 8kt-18kt depending on the strength of the front and are gusty (>8kt above the average speed) and can have substantial wind shifts associated with the gusts (>45 degrees).  West winds are similar to southwest winds from a conditions standpoint but tend to fall in the lower end of the strength range.  They tend to be associated with the passing of the front and are usually short-lived (perhaps one or two races) followed by a shift to prevailing winds from the north-northwest.

Because of their variability, race strategies for the non-prevailing conditions are day-by-day and minute by minute.  Check the forecast and study the course map.  If you are in the mix, stay in the middle of the course so that you can respond to other competitors and the changing conditions.  If you are well back then pick a side- you will either get killed or look like a genius.

There are two primary hazardous weather conditions at the lake, thunder storms and low-cloud decks.  Thunder storm potential is usually well captured in the morning forecast.  Storms typically develop to the southwest and move northeast.  These storms can be severe.  Keep an eye on the clouds especially when thunderstorms are in the forecast and err on the side of caution.  Low-cloud decks can occur following passage of a cold front.  These conditions are most common in the first half of the sailing season or very late in the season.  Visibility can decrease to near zero- use your best judgment and your comfort level.

As to navigational hazards, the lake is a reservoir and so the precise hazard locations vary with the depth of the lake.  There is a rock reef about 100 yards due east of the jetty- this should be avoided throughout the season and it is recommended that sailing out of the marina should utilize the eastern half of the lake in the area where the jetty is located.  Other hazards vary with water level and are located along the west shore, which is the shallow side of the lake.  It is recommended that sailors maintain an appropriate buffer from the west shore, for example a buffer of approximately 200 yards from the shoreline north of Mark 3 and 100 yards south of Mark 3 for a boat that drafts four feet.  This should provide appropriate safety margin as a rule of thumb.  Nevertheless, look at the water depths and talk to sailors familiar with the lake for a particular day's sailing.     
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