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How to's, Information, Education & Fun Stuff about Boats, Sailboats, and Cruising
Before you go sailing check your local National Weather Service
forecast by "City, ST" or Zip
Weather affects us all. And particularly when we're on the water. We all hope for the nice sunny days, not too warm, not too cool. A gentle breeze to fill our sails and our hearts.
But it's not always to be. It's easy to tell what the weather is. But predicting it is less a science than an art. Listening to weather reports can give us an indication of what the weather might be, but don't count on accuracy.
If you're taking your boat on a weekend sail, or just a day sail, it's sometimes okay to look at the sky, look at the forecast, and if everything looks good, just go. You can always head for shore if it turns bad.
I can assure you though that if you go boating often, sooner or later you will run into unexpected nasty weather.
How do you prepare yourself?
The first thing to do is take a course, or at least read a book about weather. The U.S. Power Squadron has an excellent course. We've said it before and you'll hear it from us again, it would be an excellent idea to join the U.S. Power Squadron, or the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Their courses are excellent and reasonably priced.
The weather course we took from the Power Squadron has saved us on more than one occasion from getting beat up by the weather. Recognizing cloud patterns, changing wind and temperature conditions can help you predict when the weather is going to turn sour on you in time to make preparations; whether to head for shore; drop anchor in a protected cove; heave to or take other precautions when out to sea.
Here is an excellent book we recommend:
Other Websites you should look at:
The prudent mariner has a barometer on board. On any voyage he will record the barometer readings on an hourly basis. If any sudden changes are seen, this is a harbinger of a change in the weather. The larger the barometric change, the more extreme the weather change.
Some Observations from those who have been 'out there.'
If you see an anvil top cloud, and it's pointing at you, head for cover. This photo shows a cumulonimbus cloud with an anvil top forming. If the winds are strong, the anvil will sheer off in the direction the wind is blowing. If you're sailing, and you see one pointing at you, get your sail down, tuck in somewhere if you can and get your anchor down. The weather could get really nasty. Often it is short lived, but things can get dicey in a short time.
We saw this formation in the Spring of 2010 just south of Beaufort, S.C. It wasn't well defined but it looked like it was going to cross our path where we were headed. We were on the ICW so we didn't have too many options - we like to steer a 90 degree course away from the path of a funnel cloud if we can. We were fortunate that all we got was a little wind and a little rain.
We could see the storm passing - as it revealed a promise of better weather on the way.
And as the front passed we had the fabled, "Red Sky at Night." And it was indeed, as it almost always is. There are many weather proverbs. Some of them are true for specific areas - but when generalized, they usually cannot be relied on. However, the old saying:
Red Sky at Night -
Red Sky at Morning -
Sailor take Warning
is more often than not, true. At least, in the mid- lattitudes of the northern hemisphere. This is because as the sun sets, its light shines through much more of the lower atmosphere, which contains dust, salt, smoke and pollution. These particles scatter away some of the shorter wavelengths of light (the blue end of the spectrum), leaving only the longer wavelengths (the red end of the spectrum) If an area of high air pressure is present, the air sinks. This sinking air holds air contaminants near the earth, making the sunset even redder than usual.
If the sky is red in the eastern morning sky for the same reasons as above, then the high pressure region has most likely already passed from west to the east, and
an area of low pressure may follow. Low pressure usually brings clouds, rain or storms, a warning for sailors.
"Mare's tails and mackerel scales make tall ships take in their sails."
A mackerel sky refers to cirrocumulus clouds. These usually indicate an approaching warm front, which will eventually bring veering winds (clocking around from northeast and east over to southwest and west) and rain.
"Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning."
In the northern hemisphere, mid latitudes the weather generally travels from west to east. In the morning, if there's a rainbow,it means moisture or rain in the air and it has to be to the west of you, which means, of course, that soon, you'll have rain.
Other Indicators of Deteriorating Weather:
Reduction in visibility is an important indicator of deteriorating weather conditions.
Combining observations of visibility, wind direction, barometric pressure and the nature of clouds can provide clues to impending severe weather.
Direction of Wind
Increasing winds shifting from the north to the east or from east to south indicate a change coming in the weather, usually the coming of a cold front. A wind shift is considered a change in wind direction of more than 45 degrees in less than 15 minutes. Clouds moving different directions, at different heights indicate shifting winds and approaching storm fronts.
Image used with permission (photographer Wing-Chi Poon)
A halo around the sun or moon is caused by the refraction of the sunlight or moonlight by ice crystals at high altitude.
Such high-level moisture is a harbinger of moisture moving in at lowering levels, and is an indication that an active weather system is on its way.
A ring around the Moon
When halo rings the moon or sun,
rain's approaching on the run.
Halos typically evolve into what is known as "milk sky", when the sky appears clear, but the typical blue is either washed-out or barely noticeable. This high, thick cirrostratus cloud is a clear indicator of an approaching low. But sun dogs are indicators that weather conditions are likely to change in the next 18 to 36 hours
Clouds lowering and thickening, ceiling lowers.
Cumulus begin to develop vertically and darken.
Sky is dark and threatening to the West.
Clouds increasing in numbers, moving rapidly across the sky.
Clouds moving from East or Northeast towards the South.
Indicators of Impending Strong Winds:
Light, scattered clouds alone in a clear sky
Other Indicators of Impending Strong Winds:
Sharp, clearly defined edges to clouds
Major changes in the temperature
Distant objects seem to stand above the horizon
Sounds are very clear and can be heard for great distances
Transparent veil-like cirrus clouds thicken, ceiling lowers
Hazy and sticky air. Rain may occur in 18-36 hours
Halo around the sun or moon
Increasing South wind with clouds moving from the West
Wind (especially North wind) shifting to West and then South
Steadily falling barometer
Red sky to the West at dawn
Indicators of Impending Precipitation:
Wind shifts to West, especially from East through South
Barometer rises quickly
A cold front has passed in the past 4 to 7 hours
Gray early morning sky shows signs of clearing
Rain stopping and clouds breaking away at sunset
Indicators of Clearing Weather:
Indicators of Continuing Fair Weather:
Early morning fog that clears
Gentle wind from the West or Northwest
Barometer steady or rising slightly
Red sky to East with clear sky to the West at sunset
Bright moon and light breeze at night
Clear blue morning sky to West
Clouds dot the afternoon summer sky
We saw these odd and scary looking clouds to the North East of us about sunset in Charleston, SC, October 2009. Fortunately it passed us. We were glad that we were tied up in a slip with a safe place to run for cover. The next day was delightful though - Red Sky at Night...
More to Learn...
We hope that this has made you aware that there is an awful lot to know about the weather. We also want to impress upon you that you cannot, should not, must not rely solely on weather reports. When you're out there on the big waters, you are your own weather prognosticator. Weather improves slowly, but it can turn nasty in a very short time. You need to learn to recognize the signs and react accordingly before it's too late. If you are wondering whether you should take a reef in the sails, that's when to do it.
Take a course. Buy a book. Study the skies. And come back to our site soon - we're going to be adding more to this page as soon as we can consolidate and publish the amazing amount of information about the weather we have discovered.
Chris Parker - Weather
And we also very highly recommend Chris Parker for weather information for Bermuda, the Bahamas and the Caribbean. We have listened to him and can tell you, he is much more accurate and reliable than NOAA, the National Weather Service, or any local radio or TV weather service.
If you have a single sideband radio receiver, listen to Chris! If you have an SSB receiver, subscribe to Chris if you're headed off shore.
The link to his website for more information, schedules and frequencies:
MARINE WEATHER AND COMMUNICATIONS
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