Friday, February 19, 2021

GRIB School

This document is an index to the several articles and videos Starpath has available on the subject of GRIB files and their use in marine weather analysis and routing.  You can skim through this to go directly to individual topics. Practice exercises are given at the end.

What is a GRIB File?

Use of numerical weather model forecasts by individual mariners is an ubiquitous component of modern marine weather. Using almost any navigation program these days connected to a wireless source on land or at sea, you can press a button to generate the latest wind, waves, and currents forecast across the chart with forecasts extending out a week or more.

The forecasts come to us in a digitized format called GRIB, standing for gridded binary. It is a vector product, meaning it is all numbers and symbols, but when rendered in an appropriate software program ("GRIB viewer app") it can appear as a graphic map of the isobars, wind vectors, rain distribution, and other parameters, laid out on a Lat-Lon grid. 

The GRIB standard was developed by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) specifically as a way to transfer weather data in an efficient, standardized manner amongst meteorologists and mariners. The grid is a Lat-Lon lattice of points, with digital values (binary data) presented only at those specific points. The distance between points on the grid is the resolution of the file. This can vary from as large as 1º (60 nmi)  intervals to as small as 1.3 km (0.7 nmi), which is about the finest step size available outside of the laboratory.

A GRIB weather map at 0.5º resolution over a 10º x 10º area including surface wind and pressure every 6 hr for 3 days (a tremendous amount of information) will be about 30 kb in size. File size increases very roughly proportional to the number of parameters, but increases as the square of the resolution and area covered.

Several apps let the viewer request the latest grib forecast from a specific model from within the app, and these generally estimate the file size as you define what you wish to request.

Terminology: We often hear or say something like, "Have you downloaded the Grib?," or "What does the Grib tell us," and so on. Usually this is not ambiguous, but we should keep in mind that "Grib" is not a thing; it is a format.  It is like saying "What does the PDF tell us? The term Grib alone does not tell us at all what we are looking at. This could be a wind forecast from the GFS model or a wave forecast from the WW3 model. Use of the word Grib in such discussions requires clear understanding of the context. Likewise, the reference to "a" Grib file, generally refers a single file, but one that includes multiple forecasts over several hours or several days.

The following links contain information related to use of GRIB files

Background on GRIB files: Numerical weather models and computed parameters

Includes topics below plus a comparison with other forms of marine weather data. 

Traditional Weather Products

Numerical Weather Prediction

Values of GRIB Formatted Forecasts

Grib2 Weather Parameters

Categories of Digital Forecasts in GRIB Format

Basic Properties of Selected Models

Sources of Model Data in GRIB Format

Timing and Time Structure in Model Forecast Gribs

Details of this basic aspect of working with gribs

What Forecasts are Available?

Time Format in Grib Forecasts 

When Can We Get the Latest Forecasts?

Grib Data Distribution is Not Guaranteed 


Applications of Weather Data in GRIB Format 

Each topic has a short discussion along with video illustrations.

1. Global model weather forecasts for ocean navigation

2. Global ocean model forecasts of wind waves and swells

3. Ocean model for currents and water temperature

4. Regional model forecasts for inland and coastal sailing

5. Overlay model forecast winds on weather map and cloud photo images

6. Probabilistic forecasts from ensemble forecasts and model blends

7. View sea ice coverage from RTOFS in LuckGrib

8. Compute optimal sailing route 

9. View ASCAT scatterometer near-live satellite wind measurements


Introduction to using GRIB files with XyGrib

A few basic tips with a video example.

Introduction to using GRIB files with qtVlm

We have a couple videos on this, but the article is not done yet.

Optimum Weather Routing with qtVlm

A short discussion with video example

Optimum Weather Routing with OpenCPN

A short discussion with video example

Playlists of Related Videos on Use of GRIB Data





   LuckGrib  (Identifying frontal systems in GRIB files)


Homework (with answers)

Practice with Grib Files 01

Practice with Grib Files 02 

Practice with Grib Files 03

Please post comments or questions below on the exercises or other content of this topic.


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