Lake Superior Weather

You can’t get away from watching the weather if you paddle on the Lake Superior coast. When I guide sea kayak trips or take pleasure trips by canoe, I am constantly observing the clouds, the wind, the texture of the water, and the colour of the sky. I’ve lived on Lake Superior all my life, yet more often than not I am at a loss when it comes to predicting the weather. About the only failsafe mantra I know is a familiar one amongst sea kayak guides: It’s better to be on shore wishing you were on the water than on the water wishing you were on shore.


That being said, there are some great online resources and reference books we use while teaching Paddle Canada sea kayak skills courses. But first, here are some basic observations that hold true most of the time.

  • Wind shifts – In general, a backing wind (shifting counterclockwise) foretells deteriorating weather and intensifying winds; a veering wind (shifting clockwise) predicts improving weather and decreasing winds.
  • Barometric pressure – A barometer is a valuable tool in predicting the weather. Unfortunately, Environment Canada no longer reports air pressure in its marine forecast, however sometimes you can catch it on land-based forecasts, which are occasionally available on VHF marine radio weather bands. If barometric pressure changes more than three millibars in a span of three hours, expect strong winds and changing weather. Note, 1013 mb (or 101.3 kpa) is the dividing line between high pressure (generally fair weather) and low pressure (generally foul weather).
  • The sky – A ring around the sun indicates rain in 12 to 24 hours; high, wispy clouds indicate strong winds and rain in 24 to 48 hours. On Lake Superior, “red sky in the morning” is a more accurate predictor (of imminent rain) than “red sky at night.”
  • Water – A good last-minute predictor of strong winds is the presence of a dark blue band of water along the horizon line. Usually this means it’s time to get to shore and batten down the hatches.

Our No. 1 source for marine forecasts:

NOAA National Weather Service – Lake Superior


A few online resources for learning about meteorology:

The Jetstream school of Weather

University of Illinois online meteorology guide

Our favourite weather books:

Wind, weather & waves: A guide to marine weather in the Great Lakes region (out of print) A PDF version is available online.

Navigation, Sea State and Weather: A Paddler’s Manual by Michael Pardy, JF Marleau, Andrew Woodford and Piper Harris. Available for purchase from SKILS.