Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Weather Forecasts

It’s a well known fact that the English are interested in the weather. The usual topic of conversation on meeting someone is the weather. The opening sentence might be, “What awful weather we are having!” or, “It’s a really super day, isn’t it?”

Both parties immediately focus their discussion on how the weather will affect them or impinge on events that interest them. One could continue, “Do you think it’ll be OK for the cricket at Lords tomorrow?”

“I reckon England will be saved by the rain, because it’ll be, ‘Rain stopped play.’”

“That’ll save our bacon. Those Aussies are really too good for us!” and so the conversation will continue.

For the yachtsman, weather is always important because it can dictate whether he should leave port or stay there. Having the wind in the right direction and the right strength could be crucial. If it’s too strong and against the tide the sea will be diabolical. If the wind is gale force there will be no sailing and perhaps that will also be case when it’s a force seven. The experienced yachtsmen will be prudent, not wanting to take unnecessary risks.

At sea, the yachtsman has to accept the weather as it comes. That’s one thing man has not been able to control, but weather forecasting has so much improved. This has happened because of the cooperation of meteorologists all over the world; they collect and collate information from numerous sensing devices: some measure sea temperatures, others air temperatures, wind direction and strength, humidity and air quality, including pollen counts, pollution analysis and the acidity of rain. Visibility is also measured. Barometric pressure is the primary tool for forecasting wind direction and strength. Radio links with cameras in satellites enable meteorologists to obtain photos of cloud formations and infra red cameras provide images which show sea temperatures. Radar images are very useful for tracking the movement and extent of rain or snow.

By feeding all this information into dedicated forecasting computers meteorologists can determine what the weather will be like in 24 hours. Indeed, because information has been saved over many years, expert programmers have build models which they have modified month by month and year by year, so as to improve their prognostications for longer periods.

All this, of course, has made the life of the sailor much safer, because he can obtain accurate forecasts from several sources, such as Weatherfax, Navtex, Radio 4, local radio and the coastguard service via VHF, and for those with access to the Internet by computer they can see live information depicting wind speeds and direction. Some yachtsmen have televisions which enable them to see weather maps. Others rely on mobile phones for text or spoken weather forecasts. Personal digital assistants (PDAs) linked via a phone or phone card to the Internet can be used to obtain weather forecasts.

Before this technological sophistication a skipper was dependent upon his ship’s barometer, thermometer, radio broadcasts and his own knowledge of local conditions.

Therefore, there is now no excuse for a coastal sailor who finds himself in difficulties because of adverse weather. By deliberately putting to sea when a forecast indicates gale force winds he could jeopardise the lives of his crew and himself, not to mention the lives of brave RNLI sailors who may be asked to assist.

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