Boating Weather: A Bit of Oceanography

Over many thousands of years, the outflow of the Hudson River has created the well-known undersea canyon.  Illustration courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

Over many thousands of years, the offshore flow of the Hudson River has created the famous undersea canyon. Illustration courtesy of WikiMedia Commons.

I was fortunate to go to sea right after high school on a Woods Hole Oceanographic vessel, the Lulu, sub-tender for the deep submersible Alvin. I was only 18 and a mess-man in the galley at the start. I was quickly impressed with the relationship between oceanography and weather. My first trip took us offshore to the Hudson Canyon,  where the outflow of the Hudson River empties onto the continental shelf and carves its way to the deep abyssal depths of the ocean floor. Topside we encountered a brutal storm—the fury of which was, I learned later, due to the welling of cold water into the canyon from the ocean depths. My naïve happy-go-lucky whistling was the reason my shipmates gave for the storm, but I soon learned that the inherent physical attributes of the earth bear a more direct impact on weather than seaman’s superstition.

Understanding attributes like the ocean bottom’s topography, the ocean’s temperature structure, and the related atmospheric circulation of prevailing winds   and current patterns, will help you understand the big picture when you’re dealing with weather locally– even if you’re boating on a lake or river — specifically how storms are swept in a general direction due to these physical realities. This knowledge improves a boater’s ability to interpret weather changes and predict storms, and it starts with this big picture understanding.

All precipitation that falls on land originates in and from the oceans, and hence a description of oceanic conditions is vital to predicting weather. Later in my seagoing career, I was the designated weather observer during a circumnavigation. I’m hopeful my daily reports helped someone anticipate, forecast, and optimize safe boating.

In my next blog I’ll talk about atmospheric pressure, but if you’re interested in learning more on how oceanography impacts weather, I recommend Knight’s Modern Seamanship.

For more about wind and weather, read these articles:

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