Dogwood and Cactus

Dogwood and Cactus

The title might suggest that this newsletter will be about flowering trees and desert succulents. Rather, the title refers to two new supercomputers that NOAA placed into service in late June of 2022. These computers are twins, meaning that they have nearly identical capabilities so that when one needs to be taken down for maintenance or upgrades, there is no loss of operational capability. They are located in separate parts of the country, again, allowing for redundancy in the case of some sort of an issue at one of the sites. They are some of the fastest computers in the…
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Solstice weather charts

Solstice weather charts

For this newsletter, I thought it might be a good idea to look at a few surface forecast charts and go through the features of the charts. This has been done before, but it is always good to have a refresher for this material, and there have been a few changes in the charts in recent years. Then I realized that we have just passed the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, so it made sense to look at some charts produced on the summer solstice, and also to look back at the same charts produced on the winter solstice…
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Using radar offshore to detect squalls

Using radar offshore to detect squalls

In 2003 I installed a radar on my 1983 Morgan N/M 456, Tiger Beetle, to help with singlehanded races between San Francisco and Hawaii. The Furuno 4 kilowatt 24-inch radome I went with was one of the better small boat radars. The 24-inch-wide antenna provided better angular resolution than an 18-inch antenna, the 4 kilowatt power punched well through rain, and it had a guard zone/sleep feature to conserve power. I would set up the guard zone on the black and white display and targets that entered the guard zone would sound an alarm so I could check the target. I…
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Atmospheric ridges and troughs

Atmospheric ridges and troughs

The formation of ridges and troughs in the atmosphere has important effects on weather at sea. Here is a look at ridge and trough structures and how they can influence surface low pressure zones and precipitation. Distinctive cloud shapes form in the vicinity of the jet stream and are dependent on the extent of both horizontal and vertical mixing of warm, moist air and cold, dry air. The amplitude and width of ridges and troughs directly influence cloud shape and also indicate surface weather feature development. High-amplitude troughs tend to pull large amounts of cold, dry air south into regions…
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Using satellite images

Satellite imagery provides a great deal of information on past, present, and future weather. Each cloud swirl, streak, and puff can be associated with a particular weather system or phenomenon. And when images are viewed by a trained voyager with a good understanding of weather dynamics, routing and course decisions can be made with confidence. The most important weather element that satellite imagery provides to the voyager is cloud data. Analysis of cloud altitude, shape, and movement goes a long way toward painting what the associated air mass is doing. Clouds are categorized by both their height and shape, with…
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Weather models and GRIB files

Weather models and GRIB files

Weather models and their digitized end product, the GRIB file, are key facets of weather forecasting. An understanding of these elements will help any voyaging sailor to better decipher the weather.  When I was in college, I was primarily a dinghy sailor and was just getting started in offshore navigation and race tactics. I knew how to read a weather map and listen to the marine forecast on the VHF radio, but beyond that I just took what Mother Nature gave me. In college, I majored in meteorology since it was the closest subject I could find to my favorite…
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Weather, December 2021

Weather, December 2021

My friend and weather colleague Lee Chesneau passed away on Thanksgiving Day 2021, almost exactly three years after he suffered a massive stroke. As a weather forecaster, instructor and as a person, Lee was one of a kind and mariners continue to benefit from his work. I was first introduced to Lee more than 20 years ago when we worked together providing a two-day weather course for the Ocean Navigator School of Seamanship. At the time, Lee was working as a senior forecaster for what was then known as the NOAA’s Marine Prediction Center, now known as the Ocean Prediction…
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Weather, October 2021

Weather, October 2021

Sometimes we just need to laugh. Dealing with the global pandemic over the past year and a half has been tough on all of us. On top of this, the past two Atlantic hurricane seasons (this one is not quite over yet) have been extremely active and have resulted in significant property damage and destruction that has seriously impacted the lives of many people. Unfortunately, there have also been many injuries and fatalities associated with sone of these storms. The forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center have done a great job providing timely and accurate forecast information for the…
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Cooking up a cyclone

Cooking up a cyclone

As the June to November hurricane season evolves, attention will gradually focus on certain conditions of both atmosphere and ocean — six specific factors, or “ingredients.” Not only are these factors necessary, but their timing needs to be synchronized to cook up a cyclone. A number of those “ingredients” can be affected by the status of ENSO, a known, periodic, irregular (two to seven year cycle), tropical climactic seesaw of atmospheric pressure, sea surface temperature and winds. Finally, an unanticipated factor may appear that warps model predictions of a potential storm’s genesis, intensity and track – an effect sometimes dubbed…
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Crossing the Doldrums

Crossing the Doldrums

For centuries sailors dreaded the aptly named Doldrums. This band of windless, hot, and humid weather near the equator could stall sailing ships for weeks, driving the crew to distraction with the monotony and sometimes even leading to the onset of scurvy as fresh supplies ran out. While sailors today needn’t fear scurvy, most of us still dislike this part of the ocean.  Most voyagers try to minimize time spent in the Doldrums. This strategy starts with obtaining accurate weather forecasts, whether over single-sideband radio or satellite phone connection. Even in the last 15 years that I’ve been voyaging, the…
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