Category Archives: Great Lakes

Weather Forecast Model 101 — Forecasting A High Wind Event

Introduction
Several weeks ago, I published a summary of storm-force sustained winds, hurricane-force gusts, and a drop in water level approaching six feet across Lake Erie’s western basin, all courtesy of the passage of a deep low pressure system on November 27, 2019 (click here to read the summary). This article examines how the weather forecast models performed during the event. Continue reading

Weather 101 – Thunderstorm Resources

Seasoned boaters know first-hand that weather conditions on the Great Lakes can change from pleasant to terrifying very quickly. From dangerous lightning to high winds, thunderstorms can ruin an outing in many ways. However, reading the marine forecast before leaving the dock and regularly checking weather radar along the way will dramatically increase your chances of avoiding uncomfortable or dangerous conditions. Continue reading

Hurricane Force Winds on Lake Erie

Introduction
Wednesday, November 27, 2019 was a wild day on Lake Erie thanks to the passage of a deep low pressure system and its accompanying cold front. The surface forecasts issued by the Weather Prediction Center (WPC) suggested the powerful and fast-moving low and its cold front would reach Lake Erie’s western basin around sunrise on the 27th (Figure 1) and the eastern end of Lake Ontario by early evening (click here for forecast graphic). Continue reading

Lake Breeze Enhanced Thunderstorms

Introduction
Even when the atmosphere is supportive of thunderstorms, a source of lift is necessary to provide the upward motion required by a fledgling storm’s updraft. A reliable source of lift is often found near a cold, warm, or stationary front accompanying an approaching low pressure system (figure 1). Terrain or the leading edge of a downdraft from an existing thunderstorm (outflow boundary) can also provide a storm with this all-important ingredient. Continue reading

A One-Two Weather Punch: The Sunday Morning Cold Front

Introduction
By any measure, the 2017 Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac was no picnic. The Race started on Saturday under very pleasant southwesterly breezes and the fleet made good progress toward Mackinac Island. However, as the fleet worked north, two weather features delivered a one-two punch that prompted nearly a third of the competitors to withdraw from the Race. (Click here for Matt Gallagher’s thorough analysis of the reasons competitors gave for retiring.)

Continue reading

Tale Of Two Downbursts

Introduction
Lake Michigan sailors have had a challenging summer. In mid-July, competitors in the Chicago-Mac were treated to a rare type of downburst known as heat burst (or dry downburst) near Milwaukee late on Saturday night (click here for the summary). Three weeks later, sailors at the T-10 North American Championship near Chicago had an encounter with a different kind of downburst, one that blasted the fleet with hurricane-force winds. These downbursts, while similar in some ways, are very different in others. The downburst at the T-10 Nationals offers an opportunity to introduce a pair of relatively unknown Doppler weather radar products – storm heights (echo tops) and vertically integrated liquid (VIL) – that can help shed light on the evolution of an approaching thunderstorm.

Continue reading

A Rare Weather Event During The 2017 Chicago-Mac

Introduction
After a challenging 2016 Chicago Mac (click here for a summary), this year’s competitors were likely hoping for an easier trip to the island. But as is often the case, Mother Nature wasn’t inclined to cooperate. Although the race started in pleasant sailing conditions, a rare weather phenomenon known as a heat burst, or dry microburst, caused two separate and frightening incidents late on Saturday night. The one-two punch of Saturday’s heat burst, combined with brisk northerly winds following the passage of a cold front on Sunday, caused nearly 30% of the fleet to retire from the race. Continue reading

A Little Excitement on Race Night: August 24, 2016 on Lake St. Clair

Introduction
Whether it’s a beer can race or a top tier regatta, weather often adds a bit of excitement to sailboat racing.  This was particularly true for Windsor Yacht Club’s Wednesday night race on Lake St. Clair, held on August 24, 2016 (click here for a map). Not long after the 7:00 pm start, an unwarned cluster of thunderstorms rolled over the course, quickly producing 30 knot winds and torrential rain. Continue reading

A Challenging Start to the 2016 Chicago-Mac

Introduction
Competing in the Chicago-Mac is never easy – after all, it is at least 333 statute miles to Mackinac Island. And by all accounts, the 108th running of Mac was unusually challenging. Light easterly winds on Saturday afternoon made progress toward the Island difficult for the racing fleet. The most significant challenge, however, appeared on Saturday evening, delivered by prolonged periods of thunderstorm activity. The storms repeatedly battered the fleet, hampering progress and prompting the withdrawal of several competitors due to minor crew injuries and equipment issues.

Light Winds Hinder Progress
By early Saturday afternoon, Lake Michigan was under the influence of a large area of high pressure centered just north of Lake Superior. This high was bisected by a stationary front originating from an area of low pressure near North Dakota and extending east across southern Lake Michigan (click here for surface analysis). This pattern resulted in light easterly winds across the southern half of Lake Michigan, impeding the progress of the racing and cruising fleets. Continue reading