Thursday, March 19, 2015

Marine Weather Services Chart — How to Make Your Own.

For many years the NWS published Marine Weather Services Charts (MSC) that listed crucial information for mariners using their services. There were fifteen charts that spanned all US Waters. The page size was 13”x 21”, printed both sides, with an annotated great-circle chart of the region on one side and all text on the other. The last printed versions of these are still to be found online from unofficial sources, but they are outdated. The NWS no longer supports them nor makes them available—the only exception is Alaska, MSC-15, which is still available from NWS, although they have trimmed down parts of the original content.

Nevertheless, the concept of the MSC remains crucial to good weather work underway. Environment Canada still offers their counterparts called Mariner’s Guide to Marine Weather Services, which are equally valuable for their waters. One approach to the missing MSC is just to print a copy of the last known version and then make pen and ink updates as needed on that copy. On some charts, the changes are few, or not relevant to your needs, and once updated their value remains high.

In these modern post-MSC days, the latest data are readily available online, but the challenge is finding it and putting it together into a useful format.  There is often too much data! We are faced with the same information in multiple formats, with some parts more convenient than others. Or some seemingly obvious thing we would want at hand underway turns out to be difficult to find online. Remember, the goal is not to provide actual resources, but to provide the information we need to use the resources we have access to underway.

So as a temporary solution—hoping the NWS eventually brings them back—we offer here a way to gather together the same data that were on the MSC charts, which you can then combine into some convenient format of your choosing. A sample section of one of the older charts is shown in Fig 1. Then in the following figures are examples of recent equivalent data found online.

Table 1 shows the data that were typically on an MSC along with links to where you can get this data to make your own compilation. For regions you plan to sail in, you can download, print and combine into a thin binder of what was in the MSC. Having this information at hand is fundamental to taking advantage of the wonderful resources we have available. The exercise will show clearly why we miss the MSC so much.

The latest word from the NWS is they do hope to re-issue some of the MSC as online pdfs, but they do not know when. This might be up to the local NWS Offices.


Fig 1. Section of now-defunct MSC-1, Eastport, ME to Montauk Point, NY, showing forecast zones and VHF NOAA Weather Radio transmitters. Blue-green is VHF weather coverage. Notice the indent in the coverage approaching Rhode Island Sound, in forecast zone ANZ235. You could get data in this region from the USCG broadcasts of Item (13). Some of these zones (Fig. 2) have changed.



Table 1. Make Your Own Marine Weather Services Chart
Item
       Historic MSC content
            Links to online sources
1
FORECAST ZONES labeled and outlined on the chart

Coastal zone maps (including Great Lakes):
Offshore zone maps:
2
NOAA Weather Radio BROADCAST STATIONS and reception ranges

Start with this index map:
then click to state, then click the station, then click the map for an excellent pdf.
3
OBSERVATION STATIONS (light houses, buoys, etc) used in NOAA Weather Radio reports.

This is the place we miss the MSC the most, as we have to recreate these plots on our own. The best approach we have found is start here:
then click a region, then zoom in for a plot of the stations to print, then click each one to get the name of the station to transfer to your print.
4
TERMINOLOGY used in weather reports and forecasts.
5

LOCAL NWS OFFICES responsible for each of the forecast zones.
6
NAVTEX broadcasts.
7
USCG HF VOICE high seas and coastal broadcasts.
8
WWV and WWVH Storm warnings
9
USCG HF RADIOFAX high seas broadcasts

10

NAUTICAL CHARTS, how to order.
11
LIVE BUOY REPORTS
by email
You can get not just live buoy reports you can get essentially every NWS product available by email request through their program called FTPmail. See:
12
LIVE BUOY REPORTS
by telephone

This is the NWS longstanding Dial-a-Buoy program, which remains a very slick system, although smart phones offer even more options. See:
http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/dial.shtml
13

USCG VHF weather broadcasts
These are the repeats and relays of weather information on VHF 22a, which reach out farther than NOAA Weather Radio.
14
CANADIAN weather broadcasts when applicable.

Here is the overview of Canadian marine services:
http://www.weather.gc.ca/marine/index_e.html
And here is Canadian Weatheradio (note spelling):
https://www.ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=792F2D20-1
15
NWS INTERNET LINKS

The main list of NOAA/NWS Internet sites is at:
A shortcut url to all marine weather resources (which we hope will not change) is:
16
WEATHER SAFETY TIPS
for mariners, unique to the region.

The closest we could find in the same spirit:
http://www.ec.gc.ca/meteo-weather/default.asp?lang=En&n=656C03FF-1
17
PORTS — Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System.

An amazing resource for quite a few places around the country:
18
NOAA Weather Radio by telephone

Covered well in AK on MSC-15, but this seems to be a service of the local NWS Offices, so you will need to check with your local NWS Office. See Item (5).
19
General and special information about the local forecast zones covered.

Start by finding the main link to the local NWS Office from here:
Then there is much information about specific regions. The unique channel winds map on the back of MSC-13 for HI is one good example. (See Fig. 6)
20
Definitions of VHF WX channels by frequency

Most resources define the VHF broadcast products by frequency, but on the boat we may only have channel names, wx1, wx2, wx3... so this can be useful data:
21
Unified Analysis Maps
Not cited on historic MSC, but new valuable resources




Fig. 2. Coastal forecast zone maps available online, from Item (1). Coastal forecasts in the outer coastal zones (we outlined in red) offer only warnings. They overlap the Offshore zones on the East Coast north of Charleston. Full forecasts in these outer zones come from the offshore forecasts.

Fig. 3. NOAA Weather Radio coverage (white areas). The online data shows the coverage gap as well. See Fig 4.
Fig 4. Detailed coverage map of WXJ39 Providence (WX2, 162.400 MHz) showing why there is a gap in the coastal coverage. It is an inland station and there are is no overlapping coastal coverage.
Fig 5. Locations of the observations stations reported on NOAA Weather Radio, from Item (3). We must then click each online to ID the station and make a list. These are the places we get recent observations from (updated every 3h) in the continuous NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts.

Fig. 6. Back of the out of print MSC-13 for Hawaii.
Fig. 7. Section of a Canadian Marine Weather Services Chart. Their offshore zones have names, ie "Explorer."


1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    One must have a Navtex Receiver on board his/her ship to receive navigational warnings and local weather reports. It enhances the safety at sea and helps take right navigation decision. Navtex is a GMDSS system and it is mandatory for certain class of ships. Now-a-days there are many applications available in market that integrates your iPhone and iPad with Navtex receiver.

    Thanks for this great article. It is very informative.

    Jejo

    ReplyDelete