Weather data on display

There are those times when a product idea seems to coalesce full-blown from the ether. Multiple companies seem to get the same idea at the same time, and when an important event like the Miami Boat Show rolls around, the new products turn up like frogs after the rain.

This year, some of the most interesting new products involved a subject sailors rank high on their list: weather. A variety of firms are now offering the ability for mariners to obtain a new level of integrated weather graphics on their boat’s computer. These services are based on the impressive range of virtually real-time weather data the National Weather Service makes available to the public.

During the 1990s, the NWS undertook a major technology upgrade that included improved communications (the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System), more powerful supercomputers at the National Meteorological Center in Maryland, more capable automatic data-collection sites (the Automated Surface Observing System) and, the jewel in the crown, impressive new Doppler radars, dubbed next-generation radar (Nexrad). The Nexrad units have excellent resolution of weather features and display it all in full color. The Nexrad system was designed to provide interlocking coverage of the United States, including more than 100 miles at sea. These detailed radar images are the mainstay of many a television weather report.

A Toledo, Ohio-based company called WeatherGlobe Technologies has a weather service called WXPort (WeatherPort) that displays radar data on an electronic chart. (You must use the WXPort software as your electronic chartplotter.) To use the WXPort service, you must have an Internet connection on your boat. This can be a cell phone, satellite, Wi-Fi or landline. At the first request for data, WeatherGlobe provides radar data that is no more than 75 seconds old and then, over time, sends up to four hours of history, so you can see how the weather situation has changed. WeatherGlobe plans to add satellite imagery, wind and wave conditions, and surface-temperature data to the WXPort service. Subscription cost for WXPort is $39.95 by the month or $239.40 annually ($19.95 per month).

Weather Services International, of Billerica, Mass., will soon offer a product called WSI AtSea. This service will provide radar data, forecast winds and live buoy reports integrated with your navigation software so the data appears right on the chart, as well as text weather reports. WSI will distribute the data via satellite. In order to use the WSI system, you must purchase a satellite antenna and receiver box for approximately $2,000. Once you have the hardware, the weather data is available via a subscription service for $499 annually or $299 on a May to October seasonal basis.

Weather Works Inc. takes a novel approach to distributing its weather service, making use of XM satellite radio, a direct-broadcast satellite-based system used primarily for music, news and entertainment. Weather Works makes use of the XM system’s many channels and high-power signal to send weather data to subscribers. For about $1,000 in gear and a $50-a-month subscription fee, Weather Works provides Nexrad radar images, surface wind data, marine-buoy and coastal-station observations, forecast wave data, and more.

Ocens is also offering a new weather-data service called WeatherNet for users of its WeatherStation or SeaStation software packages. WeatherNet is designed to be used by satcom and HF-SSB Pactor III users and includes weather charts, ocean charts, gridded binary (GRIB) wind data, text forecasts, buoy reports, Nexrad composites and satellite imagery. Users must pay $50 for software for a 12-month activation. Prices are between 15 and 25 cents per time downloaded.

These products represent a new level of weather information available to the mariner. It seems that the days of listening to weather radio with a pad of paper and a pencil will soon seem like ancient history.

By Ocean Navigator