Tuesday, September 27, 2011

10 Great Weather Resources for Boaters

By William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill

All the safety experts will tell you it's always a good practice to check the weather before you go out on your boat.  I'm no expert, but I'd have to agree with the premise; you just never know.  Checking the weather in advance will at least give you a clue as to whether a late day squall or a heavy fog might be bearing down on you. 

I've compiled a list, in no particular order, of some of the best weather tools online or in a smartphone app. Under each tool I've enumerated what can you can expect to find on each weather site.  I hope this helps you in selecting one, two or more weather resources that are right for you and if you have some favorites now, perhaps a few more you might want consider.

Here you can get your current, hourly, weekend, extended and monthly forecast for your area. It also provides you with the chances for precipitation over a 24 hour period in blocks of 3 hours each.  There are also Maps for:
  • U.S. radar feeds with zoom capabilities
  • U.S. satellite feeds with zoom capabilities showing cloud cover
  • U.S. severe weather reads with zoom capabilities and a legend.  It also shows lightening strikes and their frequency.
  • news and videos of U.S. national interest
  • a hurricane center with a map and the latest tracking information.
  • current sea surface temperatures worldwide
Aside:  AccuWeather is also a free app download for iPhone, iPad, Blackberry and Android featuring today's local forecast, 15 day local forecast, satellite map, videos and more. This is an excellent weather resource for boaters who have a smartphone.

The Weather Channel                
This site features daily and hourly
  • U.S. national, regional and local weather forecasts
  • Marine forecasts with temperature, wind speed and direction, wave height and direction, sea surface temperature, sea state (calm, choppy, etc), relative humidity, visibility, etc.
  • Maps showing U.S. current temperature, current weather, Doppler radar, infrared satellite and severe weather alerts.  All maps are interactive and will bring you down to your local weather situation.
Aside:  The Weather Channel app is free and available for iPhone, Blackberry and Android smartphones. It has current, hourly, 36 hour and 10 day forecasts, beach forecasts, a satellite weather map of you area, severe weather reports, national, local and "must see video" center.  Another great weather app for boaters who have a smartphone.

Just type in a location and you can get current/basic local weather information. 
A click on Maps and Radar will give you informational displays and data on:
  • U.S. weather fronts
  • severe weather alerts and warnings in your area 
  • NEXRAD animated radar readings for the US, Canada and Australia with information on storm tracks, total precipitation and severe weather
  • satellite images of national and local cloud cover
  • marine forecasts worldwide, showing water temperatures, wave heights and wind speeds.
Aside:  Wunderground has an free app for iPhone called Weather Quickie, but it's not as comprehensive as the website and I wouldn't rely on it for boating forecasts. 

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)     
This is perhaps to most comprehensive weather site of them all.  Here you can get your basic weekly weather forecast by the location you select.  Scroll further down the page and you'll find weather maps with Radar and Satellite Images.  There's a
  • regional radar map showing severe weather and flash flood warnings.
  • satellite images map of the continental U.S. (color enhanced)
Further down the page you'll find the National Digital Forecast Database which has
weather data displayed in graphic fashion showing:
  • an Hourly Weather Graph indicating 24 hours of temperature, wind, wind gusts, sky cover, heat index, potential thunderstorms and precipitation
  • a Hazardous Weather Report for the reported area
To the left of the National Digital Forecast Database you'll find two maps, one a Temperature Forecast, the other a Forecast Database Map where you can look up local and regional graphical displays of today's, tonight's and tomorrow's
  • possibility of precipitation
  • temperature
  • dew point
  • wind speed and direction
  • wind gusts
  • sky cover
  • relative humidity
  • apparent temperature
Aside:  There is an app for iPhone from NOAA called  Weather Alert USA that has received favorable ratings. As of this writing it costs $3.99. 

Marine Weather - NOAA                             
This site features zone forecasts of the:
  • North Atlantic
  • North and Southeast Pacific
  • Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Tropical Atlantic
  • Alaska and North Pacific
  • Central Pacific
Within each zone you can view daily
  • wind, wave and surface charts,
  • typhoon, high wind and wave charts using satellite technology
  • upper air charts

National Hurricane Center  - NOAA   
If you're tracking hurricanes, you'll find a lot of information on this site:
  • a map showing active tropical storms, tracking information and analysis
  • hurricane awareness and information about hurricanes in general with a briefing on such topics as preparedness, storm surges, FAQs about hurricanes and tropical weather and forecast models

Passage Weather             
This site provides 7 day wind and weather forecasts useful to offshore mariners.  The forecast charts are for every zone of the world and feature maps illustrating:
  • surface winds 10 miles above sea level
  • surface pressure
  • visibility
  • cloud cover
  • precipitation
  • wave height and direction

Other Smartphone Weather Apps to Consider:
Weather Bug for iPhone, Blackberry and Android.  It's free and shows
  • current conditions of temperature, wind speed and direction, wind gusts, high and low temperatures for the day, wind chill, humidity, dew point and alerts
  • the weekly forecast
  • an infrared satellite map of the conditions in your area
  • videos on the national weather outlook
Aside: This is the most popular of the weather apps and the most versatile for the smartphone.  And, you can't beat the cost.

 WeatherRadar for iPhone. Provides immediate base reflectivity radar, global weather radar and cloud cover over a choice of a streets only map, streets and satellites map or satellite only map.  It shows radar only, no other weather information is available with this app, but it show real-time radar which is a big plus.  Cost for the app is $2.99 as of this writing.

Boat Load for iPhone.  Get real-time weather forecast in any of 42,000 U.S. cities with hourly, 36 hour, 7 day forecasts for any area you chose.  It also has information a boater might be interested in such the location of marinas, ports and supplies.  Tidal information is also available as well as is the ability to file a float plan or send an emergency alert.  Cost of the download is $4.99 as of this writing.

So there you have 10 reliable resources for coastal and marine weather.  I think they're some of the best you'll find, save weather on GPS which can cost upwards of  $500 for a unit with radar and over $20/mo for the service.   These 10 sites are free as are the weather apps for Accuweather, The Weather Channel, Weather Quickie and Weather Bug. If it works on your smartphone it can work for you; it's certainly worth the time of a simple download.  A check of any one of these weather resources might keep you and your passengers safe and save you from encountering some predictable, forecasted nasty weather which most assuredly would ruin an otherwise perfect day on the water.

William L. Gills aka Bos'n Bill is the author of the book, Lubber's Log published by Llumina Press; a boating primer and adventure story about a couples experiences in moving up to a bigger boat.