Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Thrill is Gone

The past few years of cruising, weather decisions have been made incredibly easy due to the entrance of the Storm weather app to the market in February of 2015. We were so impressed with it that I did a post about it, King of the Weather Apps. The Storm app enabled us to ditch a half dozen other apps because it had all the capabilities under one roof: daily and 7-day forecasts, marine zone forecasting, tropical storm warnings and tracks, a kick-ass radar, lightning, wind prediction...you want it, it had it. But like a not-so-new teenage crush, or that zippy sports car that acquires its first ding, Storm began to lose its luster. First off, the marine forecasting  - even though it was offered under a subscription - was dropped. Then, a few months later, every time you opened the app it had an ad for the new Storm Radar app. A few months later it was no longer an option, but a mandatory upgrade. As of May 23rd, the Storm app will no longer be supported and only the Storm Radar will continue.

Storm was originally hosted by Weather Underground, a service originating from the University of Michigan in 1995. Even though The Weather Channel acquired Weather Underground in 2012, Storm was released in February of 2015 under the Weather Underground name. Storm was the app that TWC was using for its forecasting and tracking. In fact, that's where I first found out about it, while watching TWC tracking a hurricane. My only guess is that they didn't want everyone else having access to the same info (and therefore not needing TWC to interpret it for them) so they released the much less capable Storm Radar app and discontinued support for the Storm app.

In the already frustrating environment of Garmin's takeover of Active Captain and Navionics, the loss of Storm hits the cruising community hard. The information is not lost It's still all out there through NOAA (since that's where all apps get their input from anyway,) but it's not in an easy-to-use condensed format. It requires much more digging, and much more internet usage to get the same information, and nearly every cruiser finds internet bandwidth to be their most valuable currency. So what are we to do?

Some have elected to purchase subscriptions to weather routers like Chris Parker. He offers a great service to a good many people and I'm grateful he's there. But for former pilots like Tim and I, who have always done our own weather, it's not an option. We want to do our own forecasting and be responsible for our own weather decisions. I've spent the last few days while we're stuck in Marathon waiting on a weather window, to research all the options. A discussion of them follows. If you have any additional information or sources that might be helpful, please leave it in the comments below.

General Forecast Information:

  1. NOAA's New Experimental Forecast Chart: This is probably the best replacement alternative to the Storm App. Their new interactive map allows you to pan and zoom, and to click on your location on the chart for a detailed forecast. The chart looks like this: 

    You can see where I clicked on the Marathon area where we are located. When you click on the More Information link in the block, you get a wide variety of forecasting tools, charts, and maps all for your specific area.

  2. Weather Underground: Still one of the best general weather forecast sites. Typical radar, 10-day forecasts, precip, etc.
  3. Weather Bug: Same info, nicer layout, better radar.
  4. The Weather Channel (weather.com): Almost exactly the same format and news stories as Weather Underground, not surprising since they own them.
  5. Accuweather
  6. Intellicast
Marine Specific Forecasts:
  1. NOAA's Marine Forecast Home Page: This page gives you a wealth of information. You can get the coastal zone forecasts, the offshore zone forecasts, and the high seas forecasts by clicking on the zone block on the map. Here is the Coastal map:


    Once you click on the zone you want (in my case the South zone,) it will take you to the next page for that specific forecast.


    Continuing deeper, I clicked the Key West Zone and this is the next map:


    And, finally, I clicked on the Hawk Channel just outside Marathon to see what the conditions will be like for the next few days. Here is the forecast:


    If you click on the link in the lower right corner "Forecast Discussion," you will get a text discussion for the area which can be very helpful in discerning trends. Here is the discussion for this forecast
The same procedure is applied to get the Offshore Forecasts and the High Seas Forecasts.

The cat's meow, though, is a very cool interactive graphical forecast map for when you have adequate internet bandwidth. Using the drop-down menu in the upper lefthand corner you can get a forecast map for any of the following parameters:

Maximum Temperature (°F)
Minimum Temperature (°F)
Prob of Precipitation (%)
Precipitation Potential Index (%) experimental
Weather
Hazards
Temperature (°F)
Apparent Temperature (°F)
Dew Point (°F)
Relative Humidity (%)
Wind Speed (kts)
Wind Gusts (kts)
Wind Direction
Sky Cover (%)
Precip Amount (in)
Snow Amount (in)
Ice Accumulation (in)
Total New Precip (in)
Total New Snow (in)
Total New Ice (in)
Snow or Sleet > 0.25in LE, Prob.(%)
Marine
Wave Height (ft)
Fire Weather
Maximum Relative Humidity (%)
Minimum Relative Humidity (%)
Dry Thunderstorms
Critical Fire Weather
Severe Weather
Convective Outlook
Tornado Probability(%)
Extreme Tornado Prob.(%)
Damaging T-storm Wind Prob.(%)
Extreme T-storm Wind Prob.(%)
Hail Probability(%)
Extreme Hail Prob.(%)
Total Prob. Severe T-Storms(%)
Total Prob. Extreme T-Storms(%)
Tropical
Tropical Wind >34kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >50kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >64kts (Cumulative Prob)
Tropical Wind >34kts (Incremental Prob.)
Tropical Wind >50kts (Incremental Prob.)
Tropical Wind >64kts (Incremental Prob.)
Hurricane Wind Threat
Hurricane Storm Surge Threat
Hurricane Flooding Rain Threat
Hurricane Tornado Threat
Water Resources
Daily FRET (in)
Daily FRET Departure from Normal (in)
Total Weekly FRET (in)



There's a lot of other marine specific forecast pages and apps that you can use as well. Most are very specific in the information that they cover. Here is a list of the popular ones, although not comprehensive I'm sure.


  1. Passage Weather (Free - donation suggested)
  2. Predict Wind (Free or subscription), website or apps on both iOS or Android
  3. Wind Guru (Free or subscription) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  4. Sailflow (Free or subscription) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  5. Windy (Free) website or apps on both iOS or Android

Grib Forecast Apps:
  1. Pocket Grib (Initial cost) website or apps on both iOS or Android
  2. Predict Wind (Free GRIB viewer)
Prog Charts:

Because we have an aviation background, we use prog charts to help our forecasting. Prog charts are surface charts that span several days. It helps to see how the fronts move over the time period to understand the progression of the weather. You can get them at the Aviation Weather Center at the link below.


Hurricane Tracking:

  1. The definitive hurricane tracking site is NOAA's National Hurricane Center. It's also available on both iOS and Android as an app. While there's other sites out there doing it, they're all getting the info from NOAA so the NOAA Now app is the industry standard.
  2. Mike's Weather Page
  3. Tropical Tidbits
Hurricane Prep:

  1. Boat US has a fairly comprehensive site with hurricane prep information, including an assortment of checklists and guides.
  2. A blank copy of our insurance hurricane plan the year we were planning on being at two different locations over the hurricane season.


Weather Routing Services

  1. Fast Seas
  2. Chris Parker Weather Routing
  3. Weather Routing, Inc.


Other helpful weather information:

3 comments:

James said...

Nice summary. If all of your desired info is available from NOAA in a programmatic fashion then I would expect somebody else will come along and build an app for the needs of the marine market. Hopefully.

Also wanted to say that I enjoy your blog - thanks for sharing your adventure!

Deb said...

One would hope James, but Storm was the closest thing to perfect and it didn’t last. My programming skills are not quite up to the task or I would do it myself.

capt jack said...

Great info. Thanks so much for taking the time to share.