This year’s winner of the Husick award is the web-based weather forecasting and weather routing service PredictWind. Perhaps other than watertight integrity, there’s probably no other subject more constantly on the minds of voyagers than weather. PredictWind addresses this issue with a variety of tools for voyagers:
• Detailed forecasts for a specific area
• A two-data-source forecast for better accuracy
• Weather routing that can calculate the fastest or most comfortable route
• Departure planning for picking a weather window
• Live wind observations from 15,000 live stations around the globe
• A module for viewing GRIB files.
PredictWind has a free option and a tiered set of subscription-based options: Basic for $19 a year, Standard for $199 a year and Professional for $499 a year.
The company was founded by New Zealand sailor and mechanical engineer Jon Bilger, who has participated in high-level sail racing. He was Alinghi weather team manager (winner of the America's Cups in 2003/2007), was Alinghi weather team manager in the 2010 Dog Match, was navigator for TAG Heuer in the 1995 America's Cup, finished 7th in the 1992 Olympic Games in 470 Olympic Class, and was New Zealand National Champion in multiple dinghy classes.
Based on his experience with weather and racing, Bilger looked for the best weather modeling technology he could find. As he states on the PredictWind website, “We approached the people responsible for our weather modeling and obtained the exclusive license for the technology. With the development team we then obtained the topographical information to allow specific local forecasting at 20,000 sites around the world. Now local sailors around the World can have the same information that the Alinghi team had in Auckland and Valencia.
“PredictWind is a totally unique product in that you can see the predicted weather patterns hour by hour over a one square kilometer grid.”
Right now PredictWind has 520 forecast areas that can display forecasts maps for both its 8 km and one km resolution model. Within those maps the service has around 20,000 specific forecast points for pinpointing a user’s location. Forecasts are generated every 12 hours.
The forecast is developed by inputting the initial conditions into PredictWind’s forecast model. PredictWind uses two sources for this data – from the U.S. and Canada. PredictWind explains the process like this:
“The 60 km resolution model forecasts (imagine dividing up the atmosphere into many 60 km*60 km square regions), centered on your local area, starts with these initial condition files and steps forward in time to create a 5-day forecast. For each 60 km*60 km region, the model uses many complex equations to calculate all meteorological fields, such as wind, temperature, humidity, pressure, rain and their interaction.
“This process is then repeated for the 8km model run, though it is 'nudged' by the 60 km model run.
“Finally the 1km resolution model is completed, which is 'nudged' by the 8km model run. Significant computing resources are required to run the model in this configuration for all the PredictWind locations around the world.”
As for the weather model itself, PredictWind uses its own exclusive approach that has reportedly been developed during the past 25 years by a team of research scientists. One of its unique features is something PredictWind call the “stretched grid.” According to PredictWind, this is a key element of its forecasting approach. “This stretched grid is the framework for the 60/8/1 km resolution modeling. This enables the model to run without any boundaries, and is thus less constrained than other models that usually require significant damping. This sophisticated approach often reflects considerable variability in wind speed and direction, and is an advantage over other models.”
The weather routing function was written in-house by PredictWind programmers. Once you’ve done the setup it’s a one-click operation to get routing results. PredictWind also keeps the files low bandwidth – the file sizes are 1% or less of the equivalent GRIB files. This small file size saves time and money on a satellite connection. Analysis is easy because you can compare routes and all four forecasts. Plus forecast accuracy is improved by letting users compare four forecasts every 12 hours.
For new functionality, PredictWind has recently added a GRIB viewer feature in the Offshore App that is available on PC/Mac. The company also plans to release the Offshore App for iOS this month and the Android version in 2016. The PredictWind website will be upgraded in early 2016 to use the forecast map technology already used in the Offshore App. And 2016 will also see a new version of the weather model used by PredictWind.