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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We are now well into the 2021 hurricane season and are watching the evolution of tropical cyclones in the Atlantic and the Pacific. In the past I have used these newsletters to present some information about particularly memorable hurricanes, but this time let’s take a look at a system that, while impactful for some, has not been a historic system by any measure. This system was very slow to develop despite traveling over some rather warm ocean waters at times during the first part of its history. I will examine this system through a series of satellite images with comments…
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On March 22, 2021, NOAA announced that the National Weather Service (NWS) would use a new global computer model for weather forecasts. This is an “under the hood” type of improvement that most voyagers won’t see directly. If the new system works as advertised, however, voyagers should see better weather forecasts on their vessels.  NOAA says the new Global Forecast System (GFS) “will increase forecast capabilities across the U.S. These advancements will improve hurricane genesis forecasting, modeling for snowfall location, heavy rainfall forecasts, and overall model performance.” The GFS is a numerical weather prediction model that uses a mathematical model…
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From the Ocean Navigator School of Seamanship weather course A comma cloud system is really nothing more than a more descriptive name for a cyclone or low-pressure system. Learning to recognize the elements of the comma cloud will help voyagers when they’re studying satellite images and weather charts. In general, a comma cloud is a deep mass of multilayered clouds that is often shaped 1ike a comma. It reflects a region of positive vorticity advection (PVA) and can vary in size from a few hundred miles (a clump of thunderstorms whose anvils combine in the shape of a comma) to…
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In the last newsletter I speculated on the possible retirement of hurricane names over the past two Atlantic hurricane seasons. Recall that it is the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) that generates the lists of names that are used for tropical cyclones around the world, and because of the Covid-19 pandemic, they had been unable to meet after the 2019 hurricane season to decide which names should be retired from the list because the storms were particularly impactful in terms of property damage and/or loss of life. The WMO committee in charge of this task finally met (virtually) in March of…
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The 2020 hurricane season was one for the history books. For just the second time in modern times, the list of Atlantic storm names was exhausted, requiring the use of the Greek alphabet. The last time this happened was in 2005, which was the year of Katrina. In that year, storm names extended six deep into the Greek alphabet, with the final storm that year having the name “Zeta”. For the 2020 season, the names went all the way to Iota (the ninth letter of the Greek alphabet). The final storm advisory for the 2020 season was issued on November…
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