Author Topic: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?  (Read 6318 times)

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Offline rimn

Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« on: April 18, 2018, 07:41:07 am »
Anyone done the Northen Tier and can say something about expected head-/tailwinds?

When I went across last time I went from SF to NY and everyone I met complained they had more headwinds than I did. I thought I had my fair share of headwinds aswell, but maybe they had it worse.

So, I love bicycle touring but hate headwinds. I hope therefore to get help picking the direction that would most likely give me more tailwinds than headwinds. My route will be Seattle - Philadelphia or Philadelphia - Seattle.

Thanx in advance!

/Monica.

Offline John Nelson

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2018, 07:58:16 am »
I don’t think it makes any difference. The worst winds will be in eastern Montana and all across North Dakota. I had headwinds every other day and tailwinds every other day.

Offline JHamelman

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2018, 08:46:00 am »
I rode a portion of the Northern Tier, North Lakes and Lake Erie Connector westbound last year. Though I got caught in what seemed like a never-ending stream of storms coming at me from the lakes as I crossed New York, I would imagine the winds were a pretty equal mix of head and side winds. What I found more challenging was having people tell me nearly every day I was going "the wrong direction". I have vowed never to do that to a fellow cyclist!

This is what we have written in our R&M FAQs and I think it holds pretty true to my experience:

Quote
If I go from west to east, will the jet stream blow me the whole way across the country?

Actually no. The jet stream does indeed blow from west to east, but it is generally at an altitude of 30,000 feet. The wind patterns on the ground are affected by a number of factors and can cause the wind to blow from any and every direction. The majority of cross-country riders we talk to seem to have an equal number of headwind and tailwind days, with crosswinds being more prevalent. Note that crosswinds will often feel like headwinds and a tailwind can feel calm. However, there is one of our routes where the wind seems to be consistent. During the summer months on our Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, the winds are predominantly out of the north, so riding from north to south is advisable.

Have a great trip no matter which direction you choose!

Jennifer
*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

Jennifer Hamelman
Assistant Director, Routes & Mapping
Cartographer

Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring and empowering people to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x205
www.adventurecycling.org

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes

Offline StuartN

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2018, 08:54:52 am »
I rode a portion of the Northern Tier, North Lakes and Lake Erie Connector westbound last year. Though I got caught in what seemed like a never-ending stream of storms coming at me from the lakes as I crossed New York, I would imagine the winds were a pretty equal mix of head and side winds. What I found more challenging was having people tell me nearly every day I was going "the wrong direction". I have vowed never to do that to a fellow cyclist!

This is what we have written in our R&M FAQs and I think it holds pretty true to my experience:

Quote
If I go from west to east, will the jet stream blow me the whole way across the country?

Actually no. The jet stream does indeed blow from west to east, but it is generally at an altitude of 30,000 feet. The wind patterns on the ground are affected by a number of factors and can cause the wind to blow from any and every direction. The majority of cross-country riders we talk to seem to have an equal number of headwind and tailwind days, with crosswinds being more prevalent. Note that crosswinds will often feel like headwinds and a tailwind can feel calm. However, there is one of our routes where the wind seems to be consistent. During the summer months on our Pacific Coast Bicycle Route, the winds are predominantly out of the north, so riding from north to south is advisable.

Have a great trip no matter which direction you choose!

Jennifer
I plan on riding from West to East in a couple of years. Not because of wind direction (it's going to get you regardless,) but because I want to finish close to family.

Sent from my XT1710-02 using Tapatalk


Offline JHamelman

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2018, 03:22:12 pm »
Quote
I plan on riding from West to East in a couple of years. Not because of wind direction (it's going to get you regardless,) but because I want to finish close to family.

Family and friends at the finish were my driving reason for choosing east to west for my trip.

Jenn
*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*_*

Jennifer Hamelman
Assistant Director, Routes & Mapping
Cartographer

Adventure Cycling Association
Inspiring and empowering people to travel by bicycle.
800/755-2453, 406/721-1776 x205
www.adventurecycling.org

Follow Routes & Mapping on Twitter: @acaroutes

Offline RussSeaton

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2018, 03:40:36 pm »
In the middle of the USA, where there are farms with corn and soybeans, the wind usually blows out of the West and South in the summer.  June-July-August.  The wind can blow from any direction on any day.  But generally in the hotter summer months in the middle of the USA, it is from the West and South.  And in the middle of the USA in winter, the wind blows from the West and North.  Not too relevant to bicycle riding then.  For the areas east and west of the middle of the country, not sure what they have for wind direction dominance.  But for the middle 1000+ miles of the country, the wind has a West and South dominance in the summer months.  Out of the west and south.  So you would have tailwinds going east and north.

Offline bbarrettx

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2018, 07:49:34 pm »
I did a route that runs a bit south of the NT last summer and based on my small sample size I would suggest a west to east tour. The areas of real concern are the great plains where there's just nothing to block or even temper the wind. You'll be north of where we were but it's the same general feel. WY, NEB, SD and Iowa we were impacted by winds every day. We had one day in central WY (Shoshoni to Casper) where we had straight tailwinds and rode 100 miles with 5 hours in the saddle. I wouldn't have wanted to ride against those winds. That was WY and maybe not unexpected but we had 5 or 6 consecutive days through eastern SD and Iowa where winds were at least 20 mph out of the NW all day (late June). I remember remarking to my tourmate that if we were headed west on any of those days we probably would have just stayed at the campsite. Our goal was to get up to Minneapolis which was going to require heading NE out of Sioux Falls, SD but every time we turned north we were slowed to 5 mph by the crazy crosswind/headwind. For several days as we got pushed eastward we would occasionally try to head north with the same result. We ended up making lemonade out of those lemons and followed the winds to Madison, WI where we rented a car to get back to Minneapolis where we had a flight to catch.

This is a small sample size and perhaps not representative of average conditions but I can tell you that we would have been hard pressed to even ride for at least 5 consecutive days if we were headed west. We also ran into a couple in ID who had ridden east to west and almost abandoned their tour in SD because of winds. One other interesting takeaway was that as we rode through northern Iowa just south of the Minnesota border we were going through massive utility wind farms on and off for at least two days. All of the windmills were positioned to the NW which led me to believe that that was a common wind direction. The only question on that is if those positions are permanent or are they actually able to adjust the angle of the turbines. If they are adjustable then ignore that thought!

You'll be north of where we were and maybe less vulnerable to winds in MN vs Iowa as MN seems to have more trees but ND and Montana are pretty exposed. One other thought is that those sustained strong winds we had were driven by a cold front and it just seems that cold fronts generally don't come out of the east except for upsloping events in the Rockies. That could be totally wrong but it's my perception.

Having done the TA west to east several years ago combined with my experience last summer on a northerly route I'd suggest going west to east. As you already have, you'll hear a lot to the contrary out here in terms of surface winds but I'm just giving you my two cents based on recent experience.

Best of luck with your decision and your tour!

Brian

Offline jamawani

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2018, 08:09:14 pm »
Mr. B above got a significant portion of his routing from Mr. J. here.

Although winds are variable in many parts of the county,
in the High Plains of Montana and Wyoming they do have a strong, prevailing westerly vector.
Of course, those are averages. The week you are riding could have easterlies.
But it usually pays to be riding eastbound in eastern Montana.

Offline RussSeaton

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2018, 09:09:56 pm »
One other interesting takeaway was that as we rode through northern Iowa just south of the Minnesota border we were going through massive utility wind farms on and off for at least two days. All of the windmills were positioned to the NW which led me to believe that that was a common wind direction. The only question on that is if those positions are permanent or are they actually able to adjust the angle of the turbines. If they are adjustable then ignore that thought!

The windmills do change direction depending on the wind direction.  From Wikipedia:  "The nacelle is housing the gearbox and generator connecting the tower and rotor. Sensors detect the wind speed and direction, and motors turn the nacelle into the wind to maximize output."

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2018, 09:22:45 pm »
Westbound on the TransAm, we spent an evening with a couple who had come through Wyoming eastbound.  They had had an awful, no good, very bad day coming into Rawlins into a strong headwind.  A couple days later, we had an awful, no good, very bad day leaving Rawlins westbound into a strong headwind.

When I had some time after we got home, I checked the weather reports for Kansas.  Those terrible headwinds we had every day going due west?  They were out of the SSW and S.

Morals of the stories: 1. Strong crosswinds feel like headwinds.  2. All weather is local and variable.  3. Go whichever way you like.

Offline jamawani

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2018, 09:59:40 pm »
Wind roses for Havre, MT do say otherwise.
Over a nearly 50-year period, winds are more frequent and powerful from the west and southwest in summer.

Offline PeanutButterShammyCream

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #11 on: April 19, 2018, 03:10:20 am »
I rode a large amount of the Northern Tier from Portland, Oregon to New York city in the summer of 2014. During the majoirty of the trip, the wind was coming from the East. Everybody told us that we would have a tail wind because we were riding from the West, but that wasn't the case.

We all agree that wind can be extremely frustrating at times, but in my opinion, the best thing to do on a bicycle tour is to realize that the weather is TOTALLY OUT OF OUR CONTROL. When you get frustrated with the wind/rain/heat, it just makes the trip worse.

Some days the wind will be at your back, and some days it will be in your face. It is out of your control my friend :)

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #12 on: April 19, 2018, 10:20:01 am »
Having done the entire NT west to east and then the Atlantic Coast to Philly, I wouldn't let wind drive the direction decision. Had some killer tailwinds in MT east of Cut Bank, but also had at least one day of headwinds. North Dakota was a mixed bag. With head, tail and crosswinds. (You have to remember that you at not always riding east or west.) Tropical flows out of the SE produced some headwinds in the Midwest. You get the picture.

A more important driver may be the fact that you will cross the Cascades on the 6th day. Maybe sooner depending on your daily mileage. You need to ask yourself if you will be ready for that  and the three other mountain passes you will cross during the next three days.

I agree that finishing close to/at home is nice. I rode to my house and rolled my bike up the front lawn to the door.

Offline bbarrettx

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #13 on: April 19, 2018, 10:25:59 am »
RS, thanks for the clarification on the windmills. That makes sense.

Jamawani with the hard data above. Always a great resource. I recall that he has several of these west to east tours under his belt. And if he says that the wind blows left to right in Mondale Country I'd take his word for it ;).

What stands out to me on those wind roses is that those demoralizing, front induced, knock you on your ass winds have more of a tendency to be from somewhere out of the west.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Northern Tier: West to East or East to West?
« Reply #14 on: April 19, 2018, 11:35:27 pm »
I think jamawami's resource is https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/ftpref/downloads/climate/windrose/

If you go one state to the right, things look a bit different in Fargo, ND; the wind is mostly out of the south, but sometimes out of the north.  Note either feels like a headwind if you're going east or west.