All Weather News

A Look at NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center

13 Dec 2018, 8:22 am

[Inside NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center in College Park, MD]

[NOAA] We receive weather information every day in a variety of ways – through television, radio, on our smartphones and through conversations around the water cooler. But how do you get weather forecasts on the high seas where WiFi is rarely an option? Across our oceans, NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center (OPC) is delivering critical weather forecasts to keep you safe – at sea.

The Ocean Prediction Center (OPC), established in 1995, was one of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s (NCEP’s) original six service centers.  However, the basis for OPC’s mission can be traced back to the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912.  In response to that tragedy, an international commission was formed to determine requirements for safer ocean voyages.  In 1914, the commission’s work resulted in the Safety of Life at Sea Convention; the United States is one of the original signatories.  The National Weather Service (NWS), through OPC, assumed the U.S. obligation to issue warnings and forecasts for portions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans.

[As Hurricane Florence set to make landfall, OPC ensured the safety of ships at sea well in advance. Here, with hurricane warnings in effect offshore and along much of the Carolina coast on Sept. 12, the figure shows where ships have moved out to avoid hazardous conditions (red shading) and areas where vessels that are anchored or at very slow speed (yellow shading). U.S. Navy ships are further south along the Florida coast (red box). Approximately 300 nautical miles of coastline water were free of shipping vessels and ships in an area of 165,000 nautical miles heeded warnings and moved to safety.]

11 million Americans travel on cruise ships each year, and that our nation’s maritime shipping industry – the way we primarily receive goods from other countries – is a 1.5 trillion dollar economic activity annually for the U.S. This means accurate and reliable weather forecasts at sea are an incredibly important part of our nation’s economy.

Every day, expert weather forecasters at OPC deliver more than 150 different products – like forecasting maps and guidance – for weather events across the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basins, including the waters around Alaska. This forecast guidance makes its way into the hands of commercial shipping vessels allowing ship captains to dodge hurricanes, cruise ships to route around nor’easters and recreational boaters to return home safely.

Hazards at sea can vary greatly and OPC forecasts for all of them. High winds, large waves, thunderstorms, sea ice, freezing spray, and volcanic ash all present significant safety issues to mariners traveling with precious cargo- the lives of their passengers and crew.

Even with these challenges, OPC delivers life-saving forecasts around the clock each day, while also working hard to modernize the ways they provide forecasts to a geographically diverse community. And OPC has some great partners. OPC forecasters collaborate closely with the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and the international maritime community to continually advance services and ensure critical forecasts reach those who rely on them to make safety decisions at sea.

[Full Basin North Atlantic Surface Analysis]

The next time you place an online order and it arrives safely on your doorstep a few weeks later, thank a weather forecaster for their piece in the complex, but economically vital, maritime industry.

Edited for WeatherNation by Meteorologist Mace Michaels