When we mariners plan our trips, long or short, weather is an important factor. At the very least we don’t want to be rained on, but on the extreme side we also do not appreciate swells, 10 foot seas and 25 kts wind. If you are planning a near shore on on-shore trip, chances are you are coming back unharmed to your home port, maybe wet and rattled, but still, you likely will come back. When we fly any aircraft in bad weather, or as we aviators call it “IMC” (Intrument Meteorologial Conditions), we can only rely on our instruments, as we can’t see a thing outside our window while our planes are rocked back and forth. Our natural sense of balance (aka: we are flying straight and level) disappears in what is labeled “Spatial Disorientation”. You essentially don’t know if you are climbing, descending, going left or right or if your aircraft is spinning circles. This is typically the beginning of Loss of Control and often has a very sad ending. So as pilots, we don’t only want to, we have to avoid getting into weather conditions we are not prepared to fly in; our weather planning has to be spot on and offer alternatives in case of unforeseen changes.
Let me start by saying that ‘weather planning tools for Aviators are awesome’! I was surprised to find not the same level of functionality for Mariners in the Near Shore environment. In one of my last blogs I already discussed some Boating related weather apps that I use, but this list would be incomplete without mentioning the Aviation tools I use. Near Shore Weather apps for boating have good information about forecasted wave action, frequency and wind direction, however lack the “big picture” of “Why” and “What changed”? You are looking at a 5 days Marine forecast and see weather information that may or may not change, without any mentioning what factors are actually driving it. If you knew the latter, you could monitor the driving force behind it and adjust your plans mid to long term.
For flight planning we want the following: Stable Conditions, High Pressure System over area of flight, no fronts- That’s it!
Now the same is true for us Mariners, if we know we have stable conditions, we can plan our journey. If a front is approaching, we may or may not chance it as the weather pattern is unpredictable. How do we find out? We look at the “Prog Charts”, the first “go-to” chart for any aviator. You will find it under http://www.aviationweather.gov –>Forecasts–>Prog Charts–>Surface Plot
If you are in Florida looking at the Prog Chart, you will notice the Cold front (Blue line) coming through from the North, plus two Trough lines (orange) West and East of Florida.
What does that now mean?
The -generally- fast moving cold front can bring dramatic changes of weather, and cold fronts cling to the surface and push the warmer air up resulting in gusty winds and sudden changes of direction of wind. A Trough is an elongated area of low pressure, “not just a front yet”, however they are known to produce “convection” which spells “Thunderstorms”.
On top of the Prog Chart you can scroll to see the forecasted “Prog” for the next 7 days, giving you an unparalleled tool to create your own forecast for the near shore boating.
Please note that the time stamp on all aviation related material is always in Zulu Time or UTC. The time observed over Greenwich, UK. or minus 5 hours on the East Coast except for Summer/Winter Time disparity.