What is a Squall?

What is a Squall?

This week, Captain Johnathan joined Caroline to talk about dealing with squalls out on the water. We briefly touched on this nautical term in our #TallShipTuesday Video. So, what is a squall and what makes it different from a storm?

A Squall

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a squall is “a strong wind characterized by a sudden onset in which the wind speed increases at least 16 knots and is sustained at 22 knots or more for at least one minute. 2. In nautical use, a severe local storm considered as a whole, that is, winds and cloud mass and (if any) precipitation, thunder and lightning.”

This essentially means a squall is a small, localized storm. You generally can see the sheets of rain and a dark line of clouds on the horizon. If you find yourself in the open ocean with nothing around you for miles, there may be days where you can watch the squalls pass you by. It is also possible to avoid these cells by altering your course. Occasionally sailors would even steer towards a squall to collect fresh water if their rations were running low.

The term squall likely has a nautical Scandinavian origin. The word has been noted in some form since the early 18th century. It comes from either skval “sudden rush of water,” Swedish skvala “to gush, pour down.”


Storms are a term for weather phenomena that causes a violent disturbance. It is characterized by anything from thunder and lightning, to snow, or hail. The term “storm” must often be used with a qualifying term to tell us what kind of weather it is describing. A squall is a type of storm, yet it is not very big and ends quickly. A storm can last hours or even days. If you get stuck in a storm out at sea, it could be very dangerous for your crew. If you see signs of a storm brewing, it is best to alter your course and steer clear.

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