There is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to receiving weather today. We have cable TV shows like the Weather Channel that are among the most popular broadcasts on the air, and of course every local television station has multiple broadcasts during the day. Some radio and TV stations have weather updates hourly or even more frequently.
And of course we all have weather apps on our smartphones that can provide instant updates. Many of us have chartplotters and software that chart out real-time weather stations along with wind flows and other pertinent weather data. Along with VHF radios and other means of receiving official marine weather broadcasts, it is sometimes hard to choose what source to go to. Here is how I parse all these options to provide the marine weather I need when I need it.
The first line in my weather defense is my mobile phone where I not only use a general weather app (I like 1Weather), but I also have Google Chrome bookmarks on the home screen for the NOAA coastal marine forecast, several nearby buoy reporting stations, a tide app and a hurricane app. Nautical charting apps are available that include real-time buoy reports plotted on your navigation charts. The Navionics Boating app with Navionics+ shows you winds, tides, currents, weather reports, temperature, visibility and more. In addition, you may want to try a specialized radar app like NOAA Hi-Def Radar.
Here’s how my daily weather watching goes typically: When I first wake up or right before I go to bed I usually check out the general weather app to get the wider area forecast, plus I’ll check out the bookmarked NOAA forecasts for the local area. There are many app options to get the NOAA forecast, but I find going directly to the marine website is the most concise.
Once I’ve had a cup of coffee I usually add in a check of the bookmarked NOAA buoy reports for my area to see what the wind is actually doing. These buoy reports can also be very helpful when underway to see what might be coming up ahead if your NOAA weather radio isn’t giving a report for a location you want to know about. Or, you can fire up the chartplotter or the charting app for the daily planning and take a look at the marine weather plot right on the charts. Wind predictions plotted on the charts can be particularly useful compared to the vague text and radio forecasts, though I still like to pull out my old Pilot Charts when planning longer voyages. These are now downloadable and viewable online from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
That brings up my daily monitoring while underway of NOAA Weather Radio. Yes, it is old school, but VHF broadcasts are updated frequently, include important warnings about things like thunderstorms and tropical systems, are independent of Internet connectivity and will give you early warning of thunderstorms and other significant weather events. Plus, I have often been able to pick up the coastal forecasts when 25 or more miles from shore. Sometimes, particularly at night, you can pick up a skip from even greater distances. I’ve listened to the Ft. Lauderdale marine weather while sitting at anchor in the Bahamas more than 200 miles away, and that information was very useful to us since we were headed towards the U.S. coast.
If thunderstorms are threatening, a weather app can provide great early warning capabilities. Weather radio will be too vague in describing locations and tracks, while your own radar won’t be able to see far enough in many cases. Fire up the weather or radar app, or use your smartphone charting app, and get a really good look at exactly what is coming your way and when.
With the smartphone charting app you can scroll way out or down the coast to see what the conditions are that are coming your way while your main chartplotter keeps track of where you are. This can be very useful with the approach of a frontal passage — see what the buoy reports are as the front passes over them to get an early warning.
In a similar manner, watching some weather on TV can provide the longer-range and larger area view that is sometimes very helpful in planning a voyage. I like to get that really big picture before I head offshore since the local marine weather radio is often more about what to expect along the coast. Large weather system movements are likely to be of concern when you are planning voyages from the East Coast out to the Bahamas or down to the Caribbean. The tropical forecast on television is likely to look at the long-range forecast when there is nothing else to talk about — that might be just what you need if embarking on a seven- to14-day passage.
Headed way offshore? Take a look at some of the online weather charting resources available like Meteorological Charts North Atlantic and Europe at www.weathercharts.org, or check out Oceanweather Inc. at www.oceanweather.com/data/ for some really cool and useful offshore stuff.