As cruisers, we learn to predict the weather in our home waters with relative ease: it becomes instinctive. In the summer cruising grounds your radius from home port is likely to be only 100 miles. You will probably stay within your local seasonal weather pattern. Cruising the ICW is quite different. If you watch the local TV weather forecast in the morning, its afternoon predictions will be practically worthless as by afternoon you will be 50-60 miles away. This morning’s weather center forecast for tomorrow morning will be different from the forecast at tonight’s anchorage. In short, you will get little help from watching TV weather stations. You must become proficient at using a variety of sources to make your own predictions. Today’s forecast for tomorrow must consider that tomorrow you will be starting out 50 miles from here and end the day 100 miles from here. As you head along the coast you must be looking at the weather here today and 50 miles ahead tomorrow and 100 miles ahead the day after. You learn to be looking several days ahead and along a continually moving track.
Add to that the microclimates along the way. The weather in the NC sounds has its own rules. In Belhaven, you are nearly 50 miles inland from the coast. Your weather is based on land and surface conditions inland. In the Adams Creek canal you are very protected and the weather has little influence on your go/no-go decision. In Bogue Sound, strong southerly breeze will beat you up, but a nor’easter will help you along the way.
As you move south you will pass several major capes. Each one will usher in a change in weather pattern. Capes, Henry, Hatteras, Lookout, Fear, Romain and Canaveral are milestones on your way south: each one moves you into a more favorable zone.
So, what to do? There are many useful weather sites and apps. Here are the ones I most regularly use, although, when severe weather is forecast I expand my sources of data.
1. Weather Underground is my local daily weather forecast. As you move, it will find nearby towns and villages to give you the local weather as you move along.
2. The first web page I go to is the NOAA National Weather Service forecast page. It has an immense amount of information, and it is easy to get lost there for hours. The Short-Range Forecast page gives the best overview of a wide area. https://www.weather.gov/forecastmaps
3. Widitytv www.windytv.com has proven to be remarkable accurate wind forecast model
4. National Buoy Data Center. https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/ Save The Website for every important coastal weather station. I have 28 saved, including for example;
- Cape Henry, https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=chyv2
- Duck Pier, https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=dukn7
- Oregon inlet, https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=orin7
- Hatteras, https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=hcgn7
- Cape Lookout. https://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=clkn7
Use these stations to read the National Weather Service Forecast for the stations nearest you, and then look down the course and see how the predicted weather forecast changes as you head along the coast. More importantly look at the real-time wind direction and strength. Wind models and forecasts such as Windyty are good and getting better, but for your own weather predictions, you must know what the wind speed and direction is doing in real time. With the NDBC sites, you can see real-time wind direction and strength at the nearest data station and at 50-100 miles ahead. Often the real-time winds reported at the NBDC station are not the same as what was forecast.
5. NOAA Radar Pro is a very good weather radar app.
6. One I hope to never use is the NOAA Hurricane Prediction Center.
It takes time to develop the skills, however, with practice you can become confident in your own forecasts. Now is the time to start practicing. Regardless of where you are today, look at some of these tools and try to predict the wind and weather for tomorrow in Pamlico Sound, or St. Andrews Sound. Practice using these tools this summer as you cruise locally.