Category Archives: Marine Weather Forecasting

Weather Forecast Model 101 — Forecasting A High Wind Event

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

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

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

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.)

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Tale Of Two Downbursts

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.

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A Rare Weather Event During The 2017 Chicago-Mac

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

Doppler Weather Radar: A Boater’s Best Friend (part 1)

Weather-savvy mariners know the best resource for monitoring the location, size, intensity, and movement of thunderstorms is Doppler Weather Radar from the National Weather Service (NWS). In the first of a two-part series, I’ll explain the basics of radar and introduce the most common types of imagery. Continue reading

Deciphering Surface Weather Maps (Part Two)

In part one (click here), I introduced surface weather maps, meteorological time-keeping systems, the difference between Issued and Valid, and barometric pressure. In part two, we’ll look at the symbols and meteorological shorthand used on surface weather maps.

Pressure Patterns
The solid black lines winding across the country on the forecast map valid at 00Z on Thursday, February 23, 2017 (figure 1) are isobars, which are contours of constant sea level barometric pressure measured in millibars (mb). Isobars are typically drawn at 4 mb intervals on NWS maps and are labeled somewhere along the contour. The 1012 mb isobar, for example, starts northeast of the Bahamas and crosses the US coast near the border of Georgia and South Carolina (click here for annotated image). After heading west for a bit, the 1012 mb isobar makes a right turn and heads northeast parallel to the Appalachian Mountains. At any point along this isobar, sea-level pressure is forecast to be 1012 mb. Isobars allow forecasters to understand the overall pressure pattern and quickly identify areas of low and high pressure, along with other surface features such as troughs and ridges. Continue reading