Did you know there are over 300,000 trained “storm spotters” in the United States? These volunteers assist the National Weather Service with visual reports that aid in forecasting, and May 4th recognizes their contributions to our communities. To mark National Weather Observers’ Day - and with the official start of hurricane season only weeks away - we thought it pertinent to address this topic, one that should always be foremost in every boater’s mind.
As any meteorologist will tell you, weather is fickle, but fascinating. Beautiful, but dangerous. When driving on land, drivers adjust their speed and focus solely on the road when they encounter precipitation. The same observational skills, respect for the elements and responsible thinking should be applied to your time behind the helm, to ensure the safety of everyone aboard.
Reading the weather is a skill that, in truth, is an amalgam of first-hand experiences with both good and bad conditions that takes years to acquire. So let’s just start with the basics - see if you notice any of these indicators the next time you’re on the water.
Be Observant: Clouds, Winds and Humidity
There are several basic cloud types, but at sea, cirrus clouds are the ones to be watchful for. These thin, wispy clouds can appear at any altitude, but are generally the result of tropical cyclones, or by-products of outflow from the anvil of a cumulonimbus. In short, cirrus clouds are good indicators that the weather will deteriorate.
While keeping an eye on the sky, it is also important to be aware of wind conditions. Winds are the driving force of all weather at sea, producing waves and swells, and are therefore integral to marine weather forecasting. Shifts in wind speed and direction, however subtle, foretell a change in the weather, be it for good or ill. Typically in the Northern Hemisphere, wind blows in a westerly fashion; winds that blow due north or due south are synonymous with stronger storm systems.
Humidity and pressure changes can be a bit harder to detect without the proper equipment. Those with sensitive noses might claim the sea smells more pungent when rain is in the forecast. Similarly, those who have ever broken a bone swear by the discomfort a change in pressure can cause. Luckily, instruments like sling psychrometers (or hygrometers) and barometers are available to those of us whose bodies are not quite so attuned to the atmosphere.
...Or, better yet, “there’s an app for that!” Here are a few marine apps we recommend:
For even more, Boating Magazine has a comprehensive list, including apps that aid with navigation.
Believe it or not, various marine animals can help you predict the weather as well, if you know which behaviors to look for. For example, sea gulls will seek shelter when weather threatens to turn foul. Seeing them at sea in greater numbers is a good indicator you’re likely to enjoy calm waters. The same goes for the cousin of the dolphin, the porpoise; their pods are known to stick closer to shores and bays to safely ride out storms.
Ah, technology; where would we be without it? Here at Everglades, we are committed to keeping you safe in any ocean conditions, which is why we install only the best systems on the market. When used in tandem with observance, these electronics can keep you out of harm’s way when the weather decides to change.
VHF - Very High Frequency Radio - According to the US Coast Guard, a VHF radio is the single most important marine radio you can have. For tips on its proper use, and how to make an effective distress call, visit the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Navigation Center webpage. Each VHF has a designated weather station (WX) with constantly updating information, accessible with the touch of a button. Garmin VHF models are available for installation on every Everglades center console we build.
Radar - Radars do so much more than just "ping". They provide active sea conditions, monitor storms and surface temperatures, and alert you to changing ocean topography.
Sirius XM marine weather receiver - An invaluable addition to any center console. The marriage between Garmin’s multifunction display and Sirius’ radio capability offers chart overlays to monitor clouds and lightning, coastal weather forecasts, and more.
Armed with these tips and the most current tech, you can rest assured no weather situation will take you by surprise.
Have a tip, or a personal on-the water experience you'd like to share with your fellow Evergladers? Click below to email us!