Using Technology To Predict The Weather By: Capt. TJ Shea

Does it ever seem that trusting the weather forecast feels like a roll of the dice? Or, even riskier, a spin of the roulette wheel? Much like the house in Vegas, meteorologists beat the odds more often than not. The weather in Florida just seems more unpredictable, because we all can vividly recall every time the experts were wrong, and it either ruined (or made) our day on the water. We may expect to relax on calm seas under sunny skies; instead, we are holding on for dear life and a pain in the back ensues for the next week. Mother Nature has a mean curve ball in her pitching arsenal which even Jim Cantore may miss.

Weather forecasting is interpreting patterns, many of which are constantly in motion, so there are no exacts and no guarantees. For those of us in the charter industry, we are expected to rely on this weather data, so our clients are going to enjoy the day. No pressure, right? When we make the wrong call, it’s often followed by criticism that we’re choosing our bank account over the comfort of our passengers. There’s a fine line with a 50/50 forecast and eager clients – what are we to do?

After years of trial and error, I confidently rely on a combination of four water and weather apps, the moon phase and 30 plus years of experience to make the call, should the weather be iffy. Starting with the two NOAA offshore reports for our area, Englewood to Tarpon Springs, I refer to both the 20 to 60 nautical mile and the 0 to 20 report. Next, the most recent data at Windy and Wind-finder to see how close they are in comparison. Finally, taking into account the buoy positions of Egmont and West Tampa buoys for real time wave height over the last few hours, I’m ready to make the go/no go call. These data points, along with the latest weather forecast, help me determine which way the seas are going. On days when the conditions are borderline, looking at the moon phase and what the future forecast is are added to the mix. The moon cycle, at plus or minus three days of the full and new moons, normally means the current is going to be strong with increased wave height. Add in winds at 10 to15 knots on these days and I would expect unpleasant conditions for my captains, as well as, our clients. Those same winds on intermediate moon phases will generally lead to much lower wave heights allowing for a trip to go.  We also never trust a report of a calm day sandwiched between two rough days. As optimistic a Captain as I am, I never trust those predictions.

Once we leave the dock, the weather monitoring continues. While offshore, radar is a valuable asset tracking storm cells. For our trips, we use the XM/Sirius Satellite weather app for up-to-the minute real time weather. Since the data is live and happening, it takes the guesswork out of deciding if you can hit “just one more spot” or head home immediately at full throttle. Being able to have this weather data and technology at our fingertips, along with forecasts from our local meteorologists, improves our odds against Mother Nature making or breaking a day at sea. One thing I am confident of–some of our elders who made their living on the water would probably have traded their second born for a fraction of the technology we have today.


Send this to a friend