On a rugged & remote coastline, receiving a current forecast is not guaranteed. But if a forecast is one of the primary safety items, what does one do, not paddle? There have been occasions like this for me. It can be scary sitting on the west coast of Ireland or Moresby Island in Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlottes, places where the sea’s reputation require caution and a forecast.
More common though is an inaccurate forecast, one that as soon as you receive it, you know it is wrong. I have received these everywhere, from an afternoon paddle in Marquette to many an overnight trip
Observation skills provide a chance to not only check the accuracy of a forecast, but to make a forecast in the absence of one. Here are some photos, they are thumbs so you can click on them to see a larger version.
The clouds in these photos taken over several days tell about the storm.
Seeing those clouds descending in the first photo, shows the forecast for a storm was accurate and it was going to last a bit. When clouds descend over 12+ hours like this, it is a sign of a low pressure system, a system that generally brings stormy weather that can last days.
The middle two photos shows the progress of the storm. The second one in addition to the clouds, shows the rain, a sign of a front passing. The third one is when the storm is at its peak, note how low the clouds sit.
The fourth one shows the storm moving on as the clouds have started to lift. Note the surf.
A more threatening situation is a strong & fast changing wind called a squall line. Check out the thumb below:
This photo was taken in the Rossport Islands on northwest Lake Superior. Note the presence of blue sky and several different clouds layers. The dark bottomed clouds just starting to pass over us brought winds that gusted 30+ knots for 20+ minutes. After the line passed, the previous conditions returned with winds around 10-15 knots. These are some of the most dangerous conditions to encounter, primarily because how fast the winds increase and how strong they can become. We saw it coming 10+ minutes before the winds struck and tucked into the protection of the shore to wait it out. These squall lines can strike anytime there is a strong, unstable weather pattern, most commonly around thunderstorms.
The photo was taken in october. Original plan was to make the 6 mile crossing out to the nearby Slate Islands. Given the instability of the forecast (it changed every 6-12 hours) and the strength of the winds, we alternated to the closer and more protected Rossport Islands.
Finally, check out this thumb:
These were the last clouds of the system that the first four thumbs showed coming in, four days prior. Note the cumulus (cauliflower like) clouds to the west. I kept my eyes on these clouds for quite a while. They can develop into a thunderstorm. In addition to the lightning, the high winds associated with thunderstorms are also a danger. After a while, their threat receded, they neither built (grew taller & wider) nor did more cumulus appear in the afternoon. Both developments that would cause me to become more cautious.
On Isle Royale, I watched a thunderstorm build over Thunder Bay during the afternoon. The sky overhead stayed clear. After dinner around 7 or 8pm I sat watching the lightning and the towering cumulus 20-50 miles away. This is the scene in the first thumb below.
I watched some clouds come off of the thunderstorm and head straight towards my camp – a squall line! This is the scene in the blurry second thumb below. It covered 20 miles in under 30 minutes. Winds gusted to 35 knots for 20-30 minutes before the rest of the thunderstorm caught up. It rained steadily for the next couple of hours with 10-15 knot winds. By the next morning the storm had moved on leaving behind calm conditions.
Observational skills come with study (click here for references) and time spent on weather observation. Having a forecast is a critical safety item. Having the ability to observe the weather and make simple predictions adds to safety.