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VHF marine forecasts -- all fixed


djlewis

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I'm changing the title on this to reflect the fact -- as Ed Lawson tracked down -- that it was a temporary software glitch at the Portland NWS that killed the weather radio marine forecasts last weekend. It was not a nefarious plot by Nebraskastani terrorists attempting to wipe out the seafaring population of Maine by depriving them of swell forecasts while on the water.

--David.

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Over the July 4 weekend in Eastern Casco, we noticed that NOAA Weather Radio on VHF was no longer providing the regional marine forecasts including predicted marine winds, storms and swells. There were only land forecasts, momentary ("right now") buoy readings and a general North Atlantic marine forecast, which was nearly useless. Gone were the forecasts for regions such as "Synopsis for Stonington (Deer Isle) ME to Merrimack River MA out 25 NM" which kayakers (and others) depend on.

I've been digging for information on this, and below is all I've found. It doesn't really explain what we experienced, but gives some (ominous) hints.

We were able to get VHF weather channels 1, 3 and 6, and all they had was what I described above -- no area-specific marine forecasts -- ugh! Someone said they could sometimes get channel 2 and it had a good marine forecast, but nobody else in the party got 2 at all.

Here are the stations for those channels

1 -- Portland/Falmouth ME -- 162.550 MHz -- call sign KDO95

2 -- Ellsworth, ME (near Bar Harbor) -- 162.400 -- KEC93

3 -- Dresden, ME (20 mi N of Popham) -- 162.475 -- KHB55

6 -- Springfield, ME (50 mi N of Ellsworth) -- 162.500 -- WXN28

So if the observation was correct, only Ellsworth was broadcasting regional marine forecasts. Ellsworth is, of course, the farthest of these stations from the Harpswell/Bailey area where we were, which would explain the spotty reception. Dresden and Springfield are slightly inland, but of course Portland and Falmouth are coastal communities, so location does not seem to explain the lack of an area-specific marine forecast.

Here is a table I found of "products" broadcast on various Maine stations...

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/marine/marsameatl.htm

It shows that the Dresden and Portland stations broadcast the Stonington-Merrimack marine forecasts (product ANZ100, ANZ150, ANZ170) and Ellsworth does Eastport to Stonington (ANZ005, ANZ050, ANZ070). Sleuthing in Google a bit more, however, indicates that this page is NOT currently pointed to by any page on the internet, including NOAA's. In other words, this page may be out of date, and still hanging around the NOAA web site, but is no longer active. Google shows that it indexed this page last on June 20. If it's really not linked in anywhere, it will disappear from the Google cache at some point soon, and then we will know for sure.

The possibility that this page is obsolete is consistent with our observation that channels 1 (Portland/Falmouth) and 3 (Dresden) no longer seem to be broadcasting the Stonington-Merrimack marine forecast.

BTW, this is a rather big deal, since without these forecasts, anybody offshore is cut off from changes in the wind, storm and swell forecasts, that may be out of their current view of the sky and weather. Such changes can happen within a given day, and are almost certain over two or more days. So this especially hits multi-day trippers, but even day trips. The lack of storm forecasts is especially troubling.

For example, the general land forecast on Sunday indicated a fast-moving squall line might hit during the day. As it happened, the squall line moved out to sea over extreme Southern Maine, and did not come near us in more eastern Casco. But had it tracked farther east and north, we would have expected -- in prior years -- to get a warning on weather radio at least somewhat in advance, perhaps before observing natural signs such as dropping barometer, wind shifts or cloud formations. Conversely, knowing that the storm was tracking out to sea farther south would have freed us from a fear of rapidly approaching thunderstorms, and might well have influenced paddling plans.

One more thought. If Dresden and Portland stations are out of the marine forecast business, the only other station on this list for Stonington-Merrimack marine forecasts and warnings is Stratham NH, channel 5 (162.450 MHz). We could not get that on our handheld VHF's -- indeed, we could mostly not even get Ellsworth -- but perhaps bigger, stronger receivers of the sort carried on larger craft can get it. If so, it's only the handhelds and other weaker receivers that are now out of the game, and that, of course, includes kayakers. Anybody been listening to VHF weather channel 5 recently in or near NH? If so, is it giving the Stonington-to-Merrimack-out-25NM forecast?

So, this is a potentially very serious development for coastal Maine paddling. Anybody have any other information or guesses what is going on?

--David.

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I will try to listen to Portland tonight from home to verify this. A couple of weekends ago I thought I listened to the marine forecast on the Portland station. I cannot believe it does not provide marine forecasts. Based on what I heard a couple of weeks ago in Stonington the Ellsworth does all the marine forecasts since it is on the line for both coastal forecasts and people there need to know what is going on offshore as well.

The problem with listening to distant stations with the handheld units is not their lack of sensitivity, but their antenna and height above ground. Ed Lawson

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Yes, check Portland, channel 1. But also listen for Stratham NH, channel 5. We could not get that around Harpswell, so it is the only station formerly listed for the Stonington-Marrimack forecast that we have no information on. If it's not doing that forecast, perhaps nobody is. But even if it is, it's not much help for kayakers from Harpswell up to Stonington.

Also, if things did change as we fear, it may have happened after June 20, when that coverage page was indexed by Google. If so, it would be a development of the past couple weeks. Consistent with that is the fact that nobody has reported it yet that I can find.

Anybody who's been in upper Casco or farther east earlier this season remember what they heard on the NOAA channels? I'm guessing that until recently, people did hear the marine forecast... otherwise this might have already been noted somewhere.

-David

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>Yes, check Portland, channel 1. But also listen for Stratham

>NH, channel 5. We could not get that around Harpswell, so it

>is the only station formerly listed for the

>Stonington-Marrimack forecast that we have no information

>on.

Oops. Cannot listen to Portland as the nearby Holderness station is on same freq. Same for Wiscasset and Ellsworth as I have stronger stations on same freq. here. I know the NH station in Deerfield (Statham) does have marine forecast info since I used it Sat. and Monday and just herard marine forecast on it.

The Portland CG station broadcasts Wx at 0705 and 1905. They also broadcast any severe WX alerts of interest to mariners when they get them. For both of these they announce on 16 and broadcast on 22A.

All forecasts are available by phone from Gray, Me. NOAA office.

Ed Lawson

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David:

The forecasts we got on WX Channel 1 did include a Stonington-Merrimack River synopis ("out to 25 miles) all weekend. This corresponds to the synopsis included in the on-line marine forcasts. The synopsis was along the lines of "cold front moving through this evening with chance of thunderstorms followed Monday by a weak cold front." This information is actually quite valuable for getting a sense of what is coming up in the next couple of days and helps interpret the forecasts. There was also a North Atlantic synopsis.

For example, the following is the synopsis for Portland tonight:

ANZ100-061315-

923 PM EDT WED JUL 5 2006

SYNOPSIS FOR STONINGTON ME TO MERRIMACK RIVER MA OUT TO 25 NM

A WEAK AREA OF LOW PRESSURE WILL MOVE NE ALONG AN OFFSHORE FRONT

TONIGHT. HIGH PRES WILL APPROACH NEW ENGLAND FROM THE W ON THU

AND FRI. LOW PRES WILL PASS SE OF THE WATERS SAT. A COLD FRONT

WILL APPROACH SUN...AND STALL NEAR THE WATERS MON.

What is missing is what NOAA calls a "Coastal Marine Forecast" which includes predicted wind speeds and directions, wave heights and some precipitation and visibility information. I've included tonight's Coastal Marine Forecast (overnight for Portland) from the online version:

ANZ150-061315-

/O.ROU.KGYX.MA.F.0000.000000T0000Z-000000T0000Z/

STONINGTON ME TO MERRIMACK RIVER MA OUT TO 25 NM-

923 PM EDT WED JUL 5 2006

OVERNIGHT

SW WINDS 15 TO 20 KT...BECOMING W 5 TO 10 KT. SEAS 2

TO 4 FT. PATCHY FOG AND A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. VSBY 1 TO 3 NM.

The bouy reports seemed to be the old ones, though I noted that out of perhaps six bouys, only one station (Portland, I think) included wave periods, perhaps more important than wave heights as it indicates the total energy of the wave and therefore how much it will stand up when it feels the bottom. This may be more a problem with funding cuts limiting NOAA's ability to maintain the bouys themselves, rather than a policy change on reporting them on the broadcasts.

While I'm at it, the Channel 1 told us to listen for weather alerts, such as the following:

ANZ150-041445-

913 AM EDT TUE JUL 4 2006

...STRONG THUNDERSTORMS OVER THE WATERS...

AT 911 AM EDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED A

CLUSTER OF STRONG THUNDERSTORMS...PRODUCING STRONG WINDS...17 MILES

EAST OF PORTLAND BUOY...OR ABOUT 21 MILES EAST OF CAPE

ELIZABETH...MOVING NORTHEAST AT 30 KT.

MARINERS CAN EXPECT GUSTY WINDS UP TO 30 KNOTS...LOCALLY HIGHER

WAVES...AND LIGHTNING STRIKES. BOATERS SHOULD SEEK SAFE HARBOR

IMMEDIATELY UNTIL THIS STORM PASSES.

INTENSE LIGHTNING IS OCCURRING WITH THIS STORM. IF CAUGHT ON THE OPEN

WATER STAY BELOW DECK IF POSSIBLE...KEEP AWAY FROM UNGROUNDED METAL

OBJECTS.

My VHF manual insists my radio will beep if a special weather alert is issued by NOAA such as the one above. In 8 or 9 years of paddling, I've never heard one.

By the way, while browsing the lists on the NOAA site, I came across an announcement about three new variations on the "Small Craft Advisory" headlines. See http://www.nws.noaa.gov/om/notification/ol...l-craft_adv.txt for details.

By the way, my VHF got a clear signal on Channel 10, Mount Washington! Winds on Sunday were about 65 mph.

Scott

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>Over the July 4 weekend in Eastern Casco, we noticed that

>NOAA Weather Radio on VHF was no longer providing the

>regional marine forecasts including predicted marine winds,

>storms and swells.

According to the NOAA folks in Gray, Maine; the failure to broadcast the coastal marine forecast on the Portland station was caused by a software glitch which has been corrected. FWIW, Gray produces all reports heard on the Portland and Deerfield stations as well as others so you should hear the same thing on both stations. What you hear is a text to speech conversion so there is lots of room for snafus, but that is another story. Perhaps this experience is another example of how important it is to be able to make good judgements from personal observation as opposed to being dependent upon systems that can fail. After all, think about how large an area is covered by the Stonington to Merrimack out 23NM forecast and how reliable it can be for the tiny patch of water a kayaker will be on over the course of a day. I think the synopsis is more helpful as it can put what you see happening into a context that helps you make a SWAG during the paddle

Not sure about comments on buoys, the standard broadcast includes the NOAA and GoMOOS buoys which give you an excellent idea of how things are along the entire coast, but some buoys do not have period data. For example, the GoMOOS York buoy will generally tell you exactly what you will encounter when paddling off Portsmouth.

Regarding NOAA weather alerts and hearing them on the radio, NOAA runs a test of the system every Wed. between 1100 and 1300 so if you have your radio on then and it does not respond, you have a problem. Every radio is different and this is generic info, but for the radio to respond to a WX alert it typically must be programmed by the user before this feature will work. Usually this means "telling" the radio which WX stations to scan for the alerts and then putting the radio into a scan mode. If you are constantly listening/monitoring a given channel, it will never hear the tone announcing the alert on the weather channel. If it does not know which WX channel is listen on, it will miss the tone as well. The manual will give the details for setting up the radio.

Ed Lawson

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>>Over the July 4 weekend in Eastern Casco, we noticed that

>>NOAA Weather Radio on VHF was no longer providing the

>>regional marine forecasts including predicted marine winds,

>>storms and swells.

>

>

>According to the NOAA folks in Gray, Maine; the failure to

>broadcast the coastal marine forecast on the Portland

>station was caused by a software glitch which has been

>corrected.

Whew!

Thanks, Ed. I located their number and was going to call them today, butcha beat me to it. I wonder if that also accounts for the same phenomenon on Wiscasset/Dresden (channel 3) and Springfield (channel 6) - are they also run out of Portland? I was cycling among 1, 3 and 6 for quite a while without ever hearing a swell forecast.

--David.

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> I wonder if that also

>accounts for the same phenomenon on Wiscasset/Dresden

>(channel 3) and Springfield (channel 6) - are they also run

>out of Portland?

AFAIK, Wiscasset is controlled by Gray and Springfield is controlled by Caribou. The Ellsworth and Jonesboro stations are also controlled by Caribou.

Ed Lawson

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