Weather conditions are generally what drive the popularity of yachting season around the world. Most voyages are seeking the moderately warm breezes, long days, and pleasant waters. Suffice to say, no one is pursuing 15 ft waves, freezing temperatures, or torrential rains. While other determining factors such as cultural events, boat shows, and festivals also factor into intended routes, the weather is the general dictator on the scene.
Global pressure patterns will determine where and how wind patterns work, which ultimately control the associated wave heights and relative positioning of ocean currents. Much like the phrase “work smarter not harder”, yachting also follows the same train of thought: work with the elements and not against! Riding with the currents can often save on fuel and can ensure a speedier ride. It’s no coincidence that many of the global routes follow the natural flow of the water.
Another major factor is precipitation patterns, as regional monsoon seasons can make for an extended wet ride. A seasonal wind pattern shift, such as ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation), is defined as a longitudinal shift in pressure patterns and winds which occur on average, every 2-7 years.
In the warm phase of ENSO, El Niño, easterly winds weaken or reverse. This causes the warmer waters to shift from the Western/Central Pacific towards the Eastern Pacific, piling up along the South America coast. The warmer waters instigate thunderstorm development, so in turn, higher precipitation occurs. Another side effect of the excess water is that it reduces upwelling, which is the ability of the deeper, colder, more nutrient-rich water to make its way to the surface. Ocean currents are related to water temperatures, so this shift alters the local currents.
Conversely, during the cool phase of ENSO, La Niña, the exact opposite occurs: The easterly winds strengthen, which piles the warmer waters towards the West Pacific. This migration of water from the East to the West makes it easier for upwelling to occur along South America. The repositioned warmer waters over the West Pacific increase thunderstorm activity, and therefore precipitation potential.
Further examination of popular global destinations reveal that prime yachting season aligns with capitalizing on the best weather that each location has to offer:
The tail ends months of peak seasons tend to be the most financially affordable, as they occur while seasons are still transitioning from undesirable winds/rain/temperatures to the more preferred conditions. While the weather can still somewhat be iffy, this is generally when dock space, berths, and anchorages are plentiful and tourists are minimal. As yacht owners and charters seek sublime weather, peak seasonal time also brings overwhelming tourists and limited availability, hence higher prices.
Of course some locations are blessed with a year round type yachting season, such as Florida or the Caribbean, maritime SE Asia, or generally anywhere that is located near the equator. Approximately 12 hours of daylight bless the equatorial regions, with daylight decreasing as you head north of south of this line. While that ideally works for most of the year, the real caveat occurs when this excessive heat produces or strengthens tropical cyclones. Rapid intensification or a change in track may force a yacht to redirect its route with minimal notice, or scurry towards an available hurricane hole.
Predicting and tracking the development and movement of tropical cyclones can be very tricky, as it involves a working knowledge of a four dimensional science: How things are changing 1) from east to west 2) from north to south 3) from the surface of the earth throughout the atmospheric column 4) with time. Recent activity surrounding Hurricane Harvey was a prime example of how a tropical system can intensify in a very short amount of time, as it went from a category 1 [74-95 mph] to minimum category 4 [130-156mph] in less than 24 hours.
The open ocean is a nautical playground for many, to which weather writes the rules. Knowing the best time to take to the high seas is important, to make the best of your adventure and your time!
Nothing makes a body feel as protected from the elements as a solid set of four walls and an up-to-code reinforced roof, but these protective features may not be present when active weather strikes. Many seafarers find themselves subjected to harsh elements, putting them at the mercy of the skies above and the waves alongside their trusted vessels.
When it comes to the ocean, nothing “stirs the pot” like the wind; and the winds are a response to pressure differences. More specifically, winds move from high to low values of pressure, and the greater the differences between the pressure fields, the faster the wind moves. A good way to visualize this process is to imagine a ball rolling down a hill: the steeper the slope of the hill, the faster the ball will roll. Oh gravity, thou are a heartless force.
High pressures can ultimately be thought of as “hills”, the low pressures as the “dips”, and the ball is the “wind”. So when analyzing atmospheric pressure patterns, much like a contour elevation map would indicate the steepness or grade to a hiker, tightly spaced pressure contours indicate a steep pressure change pattern, hence higher winds.
So the wind blows and the waves react as a result. Now depending on the size and location of the pressure patterns, winds and therefore waves of various sizes can be produced and travel away from their origin location. Wind waves are a result of local winds blowing across the surface of the water that eventually break or reach a shoreline.
If no deterrent is present, these waves have the ability to propagate over hundreds of miles as a result of their momentum. This is known as groundswell
Waves can often aid a vessel along its course, acting like a turbocharged engine to work in tandem with the boats own gas/diesel power. However there are the other instances in which the waves become the foe. Increased wave heights, including the elusive rogue waves can roll and/or even break a vessel, overpower engines or snap rudders, leaving a craft at the mercy of the winds.
While most know the tale of the RMS Titanic, other maritime disasters have encountered similar fates as a potential result of winds and their respective waves. A 656 ft German merchant ship, the MS München, departed Bremerhaven, Germany on December 7th, 1978 on a transatlantic voyage towards Savannah, GA. In the early morning hours of December 12, the MS München sent out an S.O.S. signal, with its last reported position. All search efforts were officially called off on December 22, with emergency buoys, life rafts, life vests and belts, and lifeboats retrieved from search operations and random encounters. The MS München was never located, but via investigations done on the salvaged lifeboats, it has been theorized that via severe weather, she likely succumbed to a series of large waves which both broke over the bow and eventually flooded the vessel, causing it to sink.
While it may be easier to associate poor conditions with big patterns, sometimes small scale phenomena can produced localized increases not seen in the big picture. Two examples of this would be squall lines and water spouts.
Waterspouts can be sub-categorized into tornadic and non-tornadic, as a result of their formation source. The fair-weather types are most frequent, and are considered non-tornadic in nature, meaning they aren’t associated with a supercell thunderstorm as are the rarer tornadic waterspouts. Typical non-tornadic waterspouts start forming on ocean/lake surface and rise up to meet the base of a parent cloud. They tend to last less than 20 minutes and produce winds less than 70mph, which would classify it as the equivalent of an EF-0 tornado. Tornadic water spouts are a result of a rotating cloud which produces a tornado that then descends and connects to the surface of a body of water. While limited in space and time, either type of waterspouts can locally whip up winds and waters, and boaters are advised to stay clear.
Tornadic waterspouts can also be associated with squall lines, which is a typically narrow but elongated band of intense thunderstorms. The formation of a squall line in the near or offshore waters is usually ahead with an oncoming cold front associated with a low pressure. While generally measuring about 10-20 miles wide, squall lines can stretch for hundreds of miles, and are capable of producing, tornadoes/waterspouts, damaging winds, and frequent lightning. An incoming frontal boundary from the West or Northwest will alter winds in a location as follows: Initial winds will be from the east/southeast to south, as the winds begin blowing from the local higher pressure towards the incoming lower pressure. As the frontal boundary nears, winds will become south/southwest, finally becoming west/northwest as it departs. When a squall line approaches ahead of the frontal boundary, wind shifts can be sudden and fierce which leaves little time for vessel preparation.
From the small scale back to the large, no other weather phenomena has the power and expansive reach than that of a tropical cyclone. The amount of energy generated during the evaporation and condensation processes that produce the clouds/rain is almost 200 times the world’s electrical generating abilities, while the amount generated via the wind is roughly half of the world’s electrical generating abilities. The movement across the ocean basins can generate long range swells that can be felt several hundred miles away. Navigating a vessel around the associated increases can be tricky and requires advanced knowledge of environmental factors to determine potential storm trajectories.
When interaction with a system is imminent, understanding how to circumnavigating via the “Front Right Quadrant” [FRQ] becomes key. If one was to intersect the system with a “+” sign, the FRQ is defined as the front and right side of the system, relative to the storms forward motion. This is where the storm’s winds work in tandem with the directional wind to produce the highest winds of the cyclone. In other words, the side to be avoided if at all possible.
While there are many hazards out to sea, advanced planning and a working knowledge of the science behind these risks can help minimize disasters out to sea. Knowledge is power and coupled with a bit of luck, here’s hoping for fair winds and following seas.
As we approach the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season [Jun 01-Nov 30], observing the sea surface temperatures [SST] indicates the “hot spots”, no pun intended, for hurricane development/intensification. By the way, the term “hurricane” is synonymous with cyclone and typhoon, with the only difference being where they are geographically located: Hurricanes refer to tropical cyclones located in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Ocean, typhoons are tropical cyclones located in the Central and Western Pacific waters. And the Indian and South Pacific Ocean basins simply refer to them by their general name, cyclones.
While SST values are one of the important determining factors to observe, cyclogenesis [the birth of a cyclone] requires a specific set of conditions to be in place in order for actual development/intensification to occur. Let’s dissect these 6 major ingredients to fully understand the complexity of one of nature’s most powerful systems.
1. Sea surface temperatures [SST]: Minimum SST of 26.5 °C [79.7 °F] is necessary to provide enough heat content to “fuel” the system. This temperature needs to be distributed through at least 50 meters [164 ft] in ocean depth. According to Richard A. Dare and John L. McBride of the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne, Australia, 98.3% of global cyclone formation occurs when SST values exceeding 25.5°C [77.9 °F]. So while meteorologists may watch thunderstorms pumping off the African Coast in anticipation of cyclone development, until there is sufficient water temperatures to fuel future development, the thunderstorm moves offshore and remains just a thunderstorm out to sea.
2. Unstable Atmosphere/Vertical Motion: An unstable atmosphere is defined by one in which warm air continues to rise until it finds itself surrounding by air of an identical temperature. Once it finds its “home base”, this is what is known as equilibrium. So what causes this warm air to rise? The answer lies within the density differences between warm and cold air. Say what now? Did things just get all science-y up in here? Well, imagine you were in a 10’ x 10’ room in the middle of a Siberian winter, with no heat; you would want to fill this room with as many people as possible to keep warm, stuffing person after person into the space to capitalize on the generated body heat. Now imagine the same 10’ x 10’ room is located in the middle of hot Texas summer day with no A/C available; you would want to kick many of these people out of this room, ultimately to keep as much distance between yourself and any other heat generating individuals. Now exchange people for molecules, and the idea of air density should be getting clearer; more people (molecules) in the room (air) makes the room weigh more, less people (molecules) in the same room (air) make the room weigh less. Now you may remember that density was the amount of mass per given volume. So, while the volume of the room stays the same, the amount of molecules (people) is what differs. And there you have it, cold air is denser than warm air, therefore explaining why the warm air continues to rise until it achieves equilibrium. Wow, things are getting heavy around here.
Provided there is adequate moisture present in the atmosphere, this rising warm air and moisture combine work in tandem to develop clouds. If the rising motion continues unchecked, this will allow the clouds to continue building vertically, which now has the potential for thunderstorms.
3. Relative Humidity [RH]: Relative humidity is the amount of moisture available in the atmosphere, compared to how much it could fully hold [100% humidity]. High values of RH need to be present from the lower to middle portions of the atmosphere. So how much is enough? Low values of RH cannot support cloud/thunderstorm development, and the 50% threshold of RH is borderline at best, whereas 70% and above is considered prime RH values.
4. Preexisting condition: It may begin as a simple thunderstorm, but some form of a disturbance or an area of lower pressure relative to its surroundings is the bullet to the trigger. If a disturbance has any chance of developing into something more, it must develop or migrate into a region of the above mentioned factors.
5. Wind Shear: Wind shear is defined as the change in wind speed/direction with height. These changes in wind direction with height must be enough to sustain a counterclockwise flow [low pressure’s spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere], but not too strong or it may move the heat and moisture away from the center of the system and essentially destroy the vertical integrity of the cloud column.
6. Coriolis Force: This is a biggie. This force, as a result of the earth’s rotation, induces motion to the right [Northern Hemisphere] and to the left in the Southern Hemisphere [think of launching missiles. You don’t aim at the target, but slightly off, to compensate for the earth’s rotation.]
In addition, the amount of Coriolis force increases as the distance from the equator increases. The sweet spot for adequate force is about 500 km [310 miles] from the equator, although formation outside of that is entirely possible. It is physically difficult for formation to occur within 5° of the equator, because the amount of Coriolis force is simply too weak. Consequently, once a system rises above 20° latitude, the other above mentioned conditions become harder to maintain/achieve, so the ideal “Goldilocks Zone” for cyclogenesis remains between [5°- 20°].
So while the Atlantic Basin hurricane season is generally characterized by the Jun 01 – November 30 time frame, if the above conditions are met outside of that time frame, hurricane formation/intensification is entirely possible. In fact, of all the Atlantic storms on record, 97% have formed within the above mentioned time frame. So what about the other 3%? The earliest known system has been re-analyzed to have occurred in January  and the latest development has occurred in December , towards the end of the month. So while unlikely, it’s both historically and statistically conceivable.
Given the position of the earth and the amount of incoming solar radiation [insolation], ocean basins may indeed reach the required temperatures to support a breeding ground and if all other conditions are met, hurricane-a-typhoon-a-cyclone-a-comin’.
While 97% of storms form within the Jun 01-Nov 30 time frame, 6 major factors are required to produce/sustain cyclone development:
- SST’s > 79°F
- unstable atmosphere
- relative humidity > 60%
- existing disturbance
- adequate wind shear
- enough distance from the equator to experience adequate coriolis force
Stop playin’, read the whole article and learn a lil’ something!
Observe the moisture flow in the 1000-500 mb relative humidity [RH] field.
Cool wraparound feature, as the moisture gets transported on the winds toward the departed NE low on the right hand side of the frame. Also notice the connective feature of the departed low tapping into the moisture pool from the Gulf of Mexico [GOMEX].
West coast also seeing an increase in available atmospheric moisture.
Ain’t #weather beautiful?
Find the 3000+ mile frontal boundary via mid level values of RH [relative humidity] and IR [infrared] satellite. Drier air moving into place behind its departure.
Yes, it’s “Daylight Saving Time” (DST), without the extra “s” at the end of “saving”. So now that we’ve got this common mistake righted, back to business!
“Fall Back” and “Spring Forward”: Remember this so-called helpful pneumonic? It was devised to help one remember how to alter household “timekeepers” by an hour in order to keep you astronomically synchronized. In short, it was designed to maximize “daytime” hours by capitalizing on the sun’s generosity, which is lavish in the summer and frugal in the winter. Calendar wise, daylight saving time runs in and around April through October, while November through April is known as “standard time. For 2017 in the Northern Hemisphere, DST will begin Sunday, March 12th, and end Sunday, November 5th. The inverse holds true for DST in the Southern Hemisphere.
With the idea borrowed from an Old English proverb, “Early to Bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise”, Benjamin Franklin tossed around the idea in the late 18th century as a means to save on candle usage during the earlier sundown. He figured, why not start the day an hour earlier to use the light while it was in place, thereby reducing the amount of candles burned. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the idea was officially proposed by New Zealander George Hudson, with the idea of giving people more sunlight in the late spring and summer, when it could be best enjoyed. While the idea was out in the open, it was not favored. Germany was actually the first country to adopt the process of sommerzeit (literal German for summertime) in the early 20th century. This was done as a means to “conserve energy” by keeping people outdoors longer. The practice of DST came and went over the earlier part of the 20th century but eventually made a necessary appearance during a global petroleum shortage in the 1970’s brought on by an OAPEC oil embargo. Higher prices of oil per barrel forced a smart economic resolution of reducing oil dependence and relying on the natural resource of the sun’s light. Fast forward to today, with the innovation of smarter energy practices and work hours which know no boundaries, not every country utilizes DST.
We know the sun doesn’t change its output, so exactly why does the change in the amount of daylight occur? In an earlier post about spring, we discussed the Earth’s tilt as being the primary reason behind the seasons. This tilt, in tandem with the Earth’s position around the sun, determines how much daylight each hemisphere receives. Essentially, the amount of energy from the sun doesn’t change, but our ability to experience it, as a result of our position around the sun, is what changes.
Spring is the transitional season where the Earth changes hands from winter to summer; when the planet begins to learn towards the sun. Along those same lines, autumn is the transitional season between summer and winter, when the Earth begins the process of tilting away from the sun. This slow changing tilt towards (away) from the sun yields longer (shorter) amounts of time that a given hemisphere can receive sunlight. The special day during which the Earth receives its maximum amount of sunlight is known as the “Summer Solstice”, which occurs on June 21 in the Northern Hemisphere and on December 22 in the Summer Hemisphere.
Moving the clock forward in March/April ultimately removes an hour of daylight as we approach spring and summer seasons, when we already get more sunlight. Conversely, moving the clock back an hour in November yields an additional hour of daylight, which becomes especially useful as we approach the fall and winter seasons when the amount of sunlight becomes less. At the expense of sounding like a financial planner, consider the loss of the hour in the spring, a short term investment strategy for the upcoming fall/winter season gain; save that sunlight for a “rainy” day!
With all of this in mind, the closer one is positioned to the Northern or South Pole, the more likely they are to utilize DST. So, if you don’t like the annual “give” or “take” activity that comes with this practice, its best avoided by moving closer to the tropics, where the length of day and night varies by small enough amounts to negate the need to alter the clocks!
And lastly, just a reminder, don’t forget to move your clocks forward by an hour on Sunday, March 12th. Ugh.
Daylight Savings Time: marked by “Spring Forward”, begins in March/April, and means you move the clock ahead an hour, therefore losing an hour. This is especially painful spring/summer seasons when you feel like you just got robbed!
Standard Time: marked by “Fall Back”, begins in November, and means you move the clock back by an hour, therefore gaining an hour. This is especially useful in the fall/winter seasons when a decrease in daylight occurs and you just want your hour back!