01. Tofino & Ucluelet
On the west coast of Canada’s Vancouver Island, Tofino is often one of the first places people associate with the practice of “storm watching”. Located in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, its rugged coastlines are rich in plant and animal life all year round — any boulder might contain tidepools bursting with sea creatures — and its beaches are bordered by the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.
The same is true for nearby Ucluelet, which shares the National Park Reserve with Tofino. Visitors to the village are treated to panoramic vistas as they walk the Wild Pacific Trail, where high headlands verge upon the turbulent sea. The paths are lined by trees that appear to be perpetually blowing, their trunks and branches having been bent over time by the persistent ocean winds.
02. The Irminger Sea
The Irminger Sea, which spans from Iceland to the southern part of Greenland, is infamous for its powerful gales. It’s said to be the windiest section of salt water in the world. Mosfellsbær, situated on Iceland’s west coast, is an ideal spot to take in the splendour of the wintery weather. Located a mere fifteen minutes away from Reykjavík, the national capital and cultural hub of Iceland, Mosfellsbær is a small and navigable town where natural wonders abound.
The local shorelines, hills, and mountains are criss-crossed by well-marked hiking and cycling routes. From the top of nearby Lágafellsklif, visitors enjoy a view that encompasses the capital city, the Esjan mountains, and the Snæfellsjökul glacier. On clear nights, watch for a sight of the northern lights.
03. The Bay of Biscay
Those storm watchers who think peace and serenity are for pushovers ought to head south to the Bay of Biscay, which occupies the Atlantic waters between western France and northern Spain. Seafarers have long known that the Bay of Biscay is among the most merciless bodies of water in the world — even more so during the winter months. Low pressure systems become common in the cold weather, and cyclones burgeon as the pressure plummets. These windstorms gather speed and strength as they’re hauled along by the Gulf Stream, growing like hurricanes before they break on the beach.
It makes for exciting storm watching, especially since it gives travellers an excuse to go to some of the most famous and glamorous resort cities on the French coast. The ancient city of La Rochelle is treasured for its romantic ambience, relatively warm year-round climates, and stunning architectural relics. The city’s laid-back luxury, combined with the Bay of Biscay’s tumultuous weather, creates a striking and uncanny contrast.
Farther south, storm watchers can take shelter in Biarritz, a town near the France-Spain border once favored by Napoleon III and his fellow 19th century nobles. Nowadays, Biarritz is better known for its surfing; but as a general rule, places that provide good surfing in the summer probably provide great storm watching in winter.
Written by Dillon Ramsey
Headline photo by Chanclos/Shutterstock