Treacherous, frozen latitudes becoming hot destinations

Once upon a time, the ideal yachting expedition would involve calm seas, warm breezes and smooth sailing. The yachting season would follow the global circuit of chasing the sun and festivals, with promises of balmy nights and sun-soaked days. Now, however, extreme destinations are becoming a popular alternative for those who want their morning coffee served with a side of adrenaline. While the treacherous conditions may require the heartiest of captains and crew, the rewards of exciting adventure and exquisite landscapes are drawing many to the rugged ends of the Earth.

Some of the most obvious and immediate dangers of yachting through such high-latitude regions are the screaming winds and high seas associated with passing low pressure systems, but this does not discount other difficulties such as frigid temperatures, little or no available assistance in the event of emergency, drifting ice and thick, blinding fog.

When it comes to the volatile weather in the North polar regions, storm systems piggy back on the eastern-racing jet stream. When these systems reach the Eastern Seaboard and move offshore into the open Atlantic, they are often energized by the warm tropical waters hitchhiking along the Gulf Stream. These systems can often produce conditions in excess of 40-knot winds and 20-foot seas, with one storm after the next for months on end. The summer months are the best bet for lengthier breaks between storm systems, but no season is immune to nature’s fury. Taking into consideration a yacht’s top speed, maneuvering around the rapidly deteriorating sea state may prove to be challenging, and obtaining weather intelligence prior to departing is well-advised.

The infamous Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Arctic waters around Greenland and through Canada, offers an alternative route that shaves off a considerable amount of time from the normal route.  With diminishing ice volume in the region, the waters have become more navigable, and were most recently crossed in 2016 by the cruise ship Crystal Serenity, which took 28 days.

Looking toward extreme destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, the subantarctic islands to the south of New Zealand and South America can be the destination or merely a stop along the way to the actual Antarctic continent itself. The conditions in this region of the world tend to remain hostile year-round. Minimal land mass in the Southern Hemisphere allows for storm systems to travel thousands of miles uninterrupted. With little to no frictional effects of land to slow these winds, storms are able to maintain their edge, giving way to the nicknames associated with their line of latitude, such as the “Roaring Forties,” “Furious Fifties,” and “Screaming Sixties.” Long-range swells associated with these winds make the higher latitude Southern Hemisphere seas very tumultuous.

Whether it’s the promise of isolation that draws the visitor, as the more common yachting circuit may yield congested harbors and ports, or the promise of nightly auroras and glowing, moonlit glaciers, extreme destinations are on the rise. Seafarer, beware – it is not for the faint of heart.

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Roll Clouds: The Most Unusual Cloud in the Skies

Turning towards the sky, one can’t help but become mesmerized by beauty and movement of the different clouds that flow across the atmosphere.  One of the most peculiar looking clouds, arcus clouds, are horizontal elongated tube-like clouds that can occur all over the world.  A subgenre of arcus clouds known as roll clouds, are even more atypical as they are detached from any other cloud features.

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Roll cloud seen on January 25th 2009, on “Las Olas Beach”, located in “Punta del Este”, Uruguay, by Daniela Mirner Eberl.

While roll clouds can occur in many places, such as Germany, Canada, South Africa, Brazil, Uruguay, and even Florida, they are regionally known as “Morning Glory” clouds along the North Australian Coast, more specifically over the Cape York Peninsula and Gulf of Carpentaria.  The clouds are so named as a result of their early morning appearance, and frequently occur during late September and through early October in this region.  These phenomenal clouds may be on the order of 400-600 miles in length, ½ – 1 mile high, and may move as fast as 40 miles per hour.

As with any cloud, moisture must be present in order for water vapor to condense into water droplets.  Morning Glories tend to occur when humidity values are elevated and a clash of different air masses.  Once moisture levels are adequate, these clouds may form as a result of drastic temperature changes in air masses ahead of a thunderstorm, frontal boundary, or sea breeze.

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Morning glory cloud formation taken from a plane near Burketown (plane heading to Normanton) in QLD, Australia, 11 August 2009, by Mick Petroff

To understand the physical nature of a cloud, let’s first take a look at the relationship between air density and temperature.  Cold air is heavier than warm air as a result of more molecules per volume.

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To better understand this, imagine a 10’ x 10’ unheated room in the middle of a Siberian winter.  For a person to keep warm, they would want to fill this room with as many other people as possible, capitalizing on generated body heat.  Now imagine that same 10’ x 10’ room located in the middle of hot Texas summer day with no available air conditioning.  In this scenario, a person may want to remove a majority of the heat generating bodies.  So if we exchange molecules for people in the above example, cold air has more molecules than warm air in the same amount of space, therefore making cold air denser (heavier) than warm air. This is what makes cold air sink downwards and warmer air upwards by nature.

A sudden influx of cold air can also force warm surface air to rapidly rise, which is often the case of what happens when cold air rushes out ahead of a thunderstorm or when sea breezes occur from differential daytime heating.  A gust front is the downward and outward rush of the colder/heavier air from within a thunderstorm, usually followed by strong winds, heavy rain, and possible hail within minutes.  An extremely strong gust front rush out faster, detaching from the parent storm, and creating a roll cloud.  Sea breeze circulations occur as the sun heats land and sea surfaces differently, creating an onshore flow during the day and offshore flow during the night hours.  When an extremely strong sea breeze occurs in the evening, the elevated chances of a Morning Glory cloud occurs the following morning.

While there’s no shortage of atmospheric phenomena to excite the average observer, it is without doubt that encountering a roll cloud is an incredible sight and definitely on any weather lover’s bucket list.

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This article was published in our monthly column within The Triton  newspaper (Nautical News for Captain and Crews), and can additionally be found here.

Sea Science: Weather Lore Jibes With Modern Science

Before the invention and integration of high-tech weather instruments such as satellites, radar, and computer models, individuals often used environmental observations to determine impending weather. At a recent lunch with retired Captain Terry Pope, the topic of historical seafaring methods of weather prediction came up. For example, captains sometimes kept an elderly sailor on board whose rheumatic pains could warn of incoming low pressure or rain.

Many weather proverbs were born of natural observations, with sailors and farmers adding credibility to their catchiness. It turns out that examining these sayings through a scientific lens actually proves that one really can trust the great salty grandfathers of the high seas.

One of the most well-known of these sayings is “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight; red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” In order to make sense of this proverb, there are a couple of scientific points to understand: the vertical direction of air during high/low pressures, the general movement of weather patterns from west to east, and how the human eye perceives the specific colors of visible light.

Of all the colors of the visible light spectrum, red has the longest wavelength and violet has the shortest. Therefore, when traveling long distances or through a region of atmospheric contaminants, such as dust or pollution, the shorter wavelength colors are scattered while the longer wavelength colors make it through. This is often why we see red and orange at sunset, when the sun is lowest on the horizon and the light has to travel the farthest.  This also explains why the sun appears white during noontime hours; the sun’s position directly overhead means the light has the shortest distance to travel, with all colors effectively making the journey to the human eye. Another way to understand this concept is by observing something in the dark. The object doesn’t change color, but the human eye is unable to perceive it because of the absence of light, so it appears black.

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The warm colors of sunset are a resultant of the longer wavelengths associated with reds, oranges, and yellows.

With the sun setting to the west, red color indicates sinking/drier air associated with an incoming high pressure, which prohibits the rising air and upward cloud development that lead to thunderstorms. Conversely, a red sunrise to the east indicates the high pressure is to the east of an observer’s position, meaning a relatively low pressure is located to the west.  The rising air associated with a low pressure instigates clouds that, with enough vertical ascent, lead to the potential for stormy weather.

Another useful proverb, “Mackerel skies and mares’ tails make tall ships carry low sails,” scientifically makes the grade as well.

The names of clouds are often a Latin derivation that describe the clouds’ pattern, the type of particles they contain or their height in the atmosphere. Clouds are a useful way for an observer to determine the state of the atmosphere at a given time. In Latin, cirrus means “curl” and cumulus means “mass or pile.” So when cirrocumulus clouds are observed in tandem with cirrus clouds, it generally indicates convection occurring at high altitudes, and usually precedes rain within a day.

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Cirrocumulus clouds are often referred to “mackerel sky” for their resemblance to the fish’s scales.

Cirrocumulus clouds also appear quite similar to the scales of a mackerel fish, and cirrus clouds are much like the strands of a mare’s tail, so this saying delivers a general warning to lower the sails, as the higher winds associated with thunderstorms are impending.

“A wind from the south, has rain in its mouth” is a third axiom that jibes with sound science. Winds will always move from high to low pressure, so a breeze from the south will indicate a high pressure is situated to the south or southeast of a location, blowing towards a lower pressure located somewhere to the north or northwest.

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Winds will move from high to low pressure.

Since low pressure induces rising air, cloud formation becomes possible.  With enough moisture and rising air, storm development occurs, increasing the possibility of precipitation. Another useful fact to consider is that the faster clouds move, the more imminent the ​arrival of a frontal boundary associated with an advancing low pressure.

Accurate and long-range weather forecasts depend on technology. Without its aid, the time frame for a credible forecast drastically drops from five days to about 24-48 hours. Even so, it’s good to know that if modern weather forecasting tools are unavailable or not working for some reason, a pretty credible weather forecast can still be produced by simply turning to the sky.

This article was published in our monthly column within The Triton newspaper (Nautical News for Captain and Crews), and can additionally be found here.

Leonid Meteor Shower This Weekend

Meteor shower alert this weekend!
 
WHEN: This weekend marks the occurrence of the #Leonid #meteor shower, which tends to be one of the best and brightest every year. The peak of this shower (Friday night into early Saturday morning) also aligns with a new moon, meaning much darker conditions for seeing up to 10-25 meteors per hour! Of course, this is a weather permitting scenario.
 
WHERE: Face the east, look up, locate the big dipper (the big pot), and follow a “3 fist distance” line towards the constellation Leo (as seen in the image)
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WHO: As of now, viewing conditions look to be clear/partly clear for a majority of the United States. The Southeast, Northeast, Southwest, Central and Southern Rockies, and portions of the West Coast and Mid-Atlantic will be in luck. Cloud coverage will likely obstruct views in the Central and Northern Plains, the Great Lakes, and the Middle-to-Upper Mississippi Valley. However check your local weather service forecast by entering your zip code here: http://www.weather.gov/
 
HOW: Exactly what and how does this happen? As our planet orbits the sun, so do comets. This shower is a result of the Earth crossing paths with the debris trail associated with the Temple-Tuttle comet. Much of this debris enters into our atmosphere, but burns up due to frictional effects, hence the meteors that we see!
 
Sometimes the comets’ approach is closer than other years, turning a meteor shower into a meteor storm. While this year isn’t going to be a closest approach scenario, clear skies and the new moon will aid in producing a memorable event for many.
 
This show would definitely be worth the drive into a dark(er) location to observe this phenomena. Get out there, send us your pics, and inspire others to appreciate this beautiful event!
 
#AdventureIsOutThere

Weathering Through the Yachting Season

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.

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Transoceanic voyages often follow the major ocean currents

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.

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El Niño typically weaken or reverse the easterly trade winds to become westerly, as seen in this image.  This enhances warmer water to reach the Eastern Pacific, which further increases rain potential.

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.

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La Niña enhances the easterly trade winds, forcing water mass to pile into the Western Pacific. As a result, this elevates precipitation in the Western Pacific.   Meanwhile deeper (cooler) water upwells in the Eastern Pacific, which can limit thunderstorm activity.

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:

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Peak months for yachting around the world, often follow the seasons.

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.

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Global boating tracks, created via OceanPassages

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!

Irma on the Mind???

Current position [18.5 N / 45.9 W]

First thing first. there is still A LOT of variation that can occur 7 days out! So this briefing isn’t to serve as a forecast, but as an explanation as to the components in play.

 

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TRACK:
For the last few days, we’ve been waiting to see how far S and W Irma’s trajectory would dip. Like a ball that must bounce downwards before it bounces upwards, we’ve been closely watching the expected S and W dip that Irma is undergoing this weekend. The system is expected to begin it’s more northward trajectory on Mon/Tue, and therefore a narrowing of potential outcomes will only begin then. And no that doesn’t mean the final answer will appear, but a better picture will be revealed.

Now that WSW motion is indeed in place, but it initiated slightly higher north than previously modeled. A hurricane’s position is a result of the eye location, and to put it plainly, Irma’s been acting pretty shifty-eyed. The reason for this is the multiple occurrences of EWRC [eye-wall replacement cycles]: This is when a larger eye forms around an established eye. The larger eye “chokes” off the necessary moisture and the inner eye collapses. This process does weaken or prohibits further intensification during the process, but it is usually followed by a re-strengthening once the process is complete. So if the location of the eye is slightly changing, then it stands to reason that the point of where we measure it’s S and W movement also shifts.

If you’re following the models, remember that one release does NOT indicate certainty. You’re looking for consistency from run-to-tun. The GFS (American model) comes out 4 times a day. The European model is released twice a day.

VARIABLES:
Now as mentioned prior, there are many variables that will affect the trajectory of this system: The position of a high pressure located N/NE of the system, an upper level low located to the NW of the system, high and low pressure placement over the U.S. 6-8 days from now, and Irma’s interaction with any landmasses along the way or regions of increased wind shear [how winds change with height].

INTENSITY:
Three major factors are behind Irma’s current intensity, with the first two working against:
1) Its location in a region of cooler SST’s [sea surface temperatures], but by only about 1-2 degrees cooler than what’s consider tropical fuel.
2) Drier air ahead of the system is slightly wrapping into the inner regions, which dampens cloud/thunderstorm development.

But in the ‘ole gal’s favor is that its in a region of
3) Weaker vertical wind shear of about [10-15 kts] is a hurricane’s dream, as it does not destroy the thunderstorms from building vertically but still provides enough shift to keep the circulation in place.

But….Irma is moving into a region of higher SST’s (pro), moister (pro) air, and higher shear (con).
Considering all involved, further intensification is likely.

OUTCOME: For those in the U.S, take a deep breath, and consider tightening up your hurricane plans, because come next week, the time will come to either 1) pull the trigger or 2) exhale and consider yourself to have conquered yet another week during the 2017 Atlantic Hurricane Season.

But if you’re asking, “What would YOU do”, well, on this end, supplies are in place; because why not. Because what better way to actually relax this labor day weekend than to know whatever happens next week, as the picture sharpens, things are in place now. [Think of people who waited until the last minute to find solar eclipse glasses; how well did that work out?]

So, stay tuned, stay aware, and DO NOT buy into the hype anytime over the next 2 days.

 

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Wall ‘O Waterspouts is Without a Doubt Weather-iffic.

This 2014 image via Bruce Omori of Extreme Exposure Fine Art Gallery is an amazing view of #waterspouts from the Kilauea Volcano in #Hawaii. It may be old but 121% worth the share.

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How many do you see? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and likely a 7th in formation along the right.

Nature is the best form of entertainment, without a monthly fee!