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Basic Marine Weather Forecasting Seminar

Reference Guide
Mark A. Thornton

Forecasting Website:

It is impossible to predict the weather with total precision, but that doesnt mean that the weather
must be entirely unpredictable. The Basic Marine Weather Seminar will provide attendees with an
understanding of basic meteorological principles and explore the conditions favoring the
development of severe weather.

Mark A. Thornton ---
Section Two: Fundamentals
Barometric Pressure:
The force per unit area exerted by air molecules on a surface. Alternatively, the weight of the air above given area.
Measured in Inches of mercury (Hg) or Millibars (mb). (Average Sea Level Pressure is 1013.25 mb / 29.921 Hg0.
It is the trend, not the absolute value, of barometric pressure that is important.
Evaporation the process of water molecules changing from a liquid to a vapor. It results in cooling of an air parcel.
Condensation the process of water molecules changing from a vapor to a liquid. It results in warming of an air parcel.
Saturation the condition where the amount of water vapor in an air parcel is equal to the maximum level based upon
the parcels temperature and pressure.
Relative Humidity the ratio of the amount of water vapor in an air parcel compared to the amount required for
Dew Point the temperature to which an air parcel must be cooled (at a constant pressure) for saturation to occur. A
measure of moisture content.
Upper Atmosphere:
Barometric pressure decreases with increasing altitude.
Surface weather features are influenced by mid- and upper-level features.
Atmospheric Instability - The tendency for air parcels to rise when they are lifted from their original position.

Instability is determined by assessing the temperature and moisture profile of a deep layer of the

Instability is a prerequisite for severe weather - the greater the instability, the greater the potential for
severe thunderstorms.
Atmospheric Stability An atmospheric condition where upward motion of air parcel is suppressed.

Limits the development of thunderstorms and severe weather.
Unstable Environments
A deep layer of cold air aloft over a layer of warm and moist air at the
Rising air parcel remains warmer (less dense) than the surrounding
Air parcels have a tendency to rise.
Upward motion promotes condensation, cloud development and
Severe weather is associated with unstable environments.
Section Three: Interpreting Weather Graphics
Frontal Boundaries On Surface Charts
1. Cold Front
2. Warm Front
3. Stationary Front
4. Occluded Front
5. Trough
6. Squall Line
7. Dryline
8. Tropical Wave
Surface Weather Features:
Isobar: contour of constant sea level barometric pressure.
Cold Front: boundary between warm, moist air and cold, dry air.
Warm Front: boundary between warm, moist air and cool, moist air.
Stationary Front: boundary that is either stationary or moving at less than 5 knots.
Occluded Front: occurs when a cold front overtakes a warm front.
Trough: an elongated area of relatively low pressure.
Ridge: an elongated are of relatively high pressure.
Eastern Time
GMT 4 hours

0Z = 8 pm
6Z = 2 am
12Z = 8 am
18Z = 2 pm
Central Time
GMT 5 hours

0Z = 7 pm
6Z = 1 am
12Z = 7 am
18Z = 1 pm
During Summer
Initialized: Date & time the forecast was created.

Valid: Date & Time for which the forecast is intended
Meteorological Time
Section Four: Forces Controlling The Wind
Controllers of The Wind
Pressure Gradient Force the change in barometric pressure over a specified distance.
Coriolis Force an apparent force due to the rotation of the Earth. In the northern hemisphere, the Coriolis
Force imparts a shift to the right in a fluid.
Friction slows the surface winds, reduces the Coriolis Force and creates a shift to the left. Influence is
limited to the lowest 1 km.
Pressure Gradient Force (PGF) = Difference in Barometric Pressure / Distance Between Points.
Tightly-spaced isobars = higher PGF and faster winds.
Widely-spaced isobars = lower PGF and lighter winds.
PGF can be affected by building highs, deepening lows or systems moving relative to one another.
Section Five: Clouds and Precipitation
Cloud Formation
Cloud Classification
Basic Shape
Cirrus thin, wispy clouds that are generally composed
of ice crystals.
Stratus layered, featureless cloud deck.
Cumulus lumpy or heaped clouds that display vertical
Cloud Height
Cirrus prefix given to high clouds with bases above
20,000 feet.
Alto prefix given to mid-level clouds that from 6,000 to
20,000 feet. May be comprised of ice crystals or water
No designation for low clouds.
Nimbo added as prefix or suffix indicates that the cloud
is producing precipitation.
Clouds in stable environments tend to be wider than they are tall.
Clouds in unstable environments are typically taller than they are wide.
Probability of Precipitation (PoP) used in National Weather Service Forecasts
PoP Percent Expressions of Uncertainty
Equivalent Areal Qualifiers (convective
10 percent none used isolated, or few
20 percent slight chance widely scattered
30-40-50 percent chance scattered
60-70 percent likely numerous (or none used)
80-90-100 percent (categorical) none used none used
Probability of Precipitation (PoP)
Is NOT the portion of the day in which it will rain.
Is NOT the portion of the forecast area where rain will occur.
According to the NWS, it IS the potential (expressed as a percent) of a measurable amount of liquid
precipitation (.01 inch) during a specified period of time (usually 12 hours) at any given point in the forecast area.
Section Six: Low Pressure Systems
Warm Sector
Forming a Low Pressure System
Step 1 Step 2 Step 3
Step 5
Step 4
Reminder: Mid-Level Support Is Critical To The Life Cycle
Parameter Before Passing While Passing After Passing
Wind South to
Gusty and shifting West to northwest
Temperature Warm Sudden drop Steadily dropping
Barometric Pressure Steadily falling Reaches minimum before
rising sharply
Steadily rising
Clouds Increasing
Towering cumulus or
General clearing
Precipitation Scattered showers
(except for pre-
frontal troughs)
Heavy rain or snow,
Precipitation diminishes
Dew Point Relatively high Sudden drop Decreasing
Cold Fronts
Parameter Before Passing While Passing After Passing
Wind South to southwest Variable South to southwest
Temperature Cool but slowly
Steady increase Warming
Barometric Pressure Typically falling Steady Slight rise
Clouds High clouds following
by lowering heights
Stratus Deck Clearing with scattered
Precipitation Typically light but
Typically light Precipitation diminishes
Dew Point Steady increase Steady Rises
Warm Fronts
Cloud Patterns Associated With Low Pressure Systems
Cold Front Warm Front
Section Seven: Observational Tools
Measuring Reflectivity
The amount of energy backscattered to the radar site is measured in decibels or dBZ.
The value of dBZ generally represents the rate of precipitation.
Can be dramatically affected by precipitation type (snow, hail, etc.)
Measuring Velocity by measuring the Doppler effect, velocity imagery
displays the speed and direction of movement of hydrometeors (wind
speed, wind direction and storm motion can be inferred).
Base velocity imagery displays hydrometeor motion relative to the
radar site.
Storm-relative velocity imagery subtracts storm motion. This allows
rotation within a storm, such as a rotating updraft or tornado to be
Caution Radar Imagery Is Not Live
Visible Satellite Imagery
Easily identifies cloudy and cloud-free regions.
Relies upon reflected sunlight therefore it is only available during the daytime.
Infrared Satellite Imagery
Discerns between high and low-level clouds by measuring the level of emitted radiation..
Colder cloud tops (taller storms) are shown in brighter colors.
Not limited to daylight hours.
Section Eight: Thunderstorms
Thunderstorm Stages of Development
Single cell storms -- characterized by a single, non-recurring updraft and downdraft.
Multi-cell thunderstorms -- those storms where cells in various stages of development co-exist in a cluster. Squall
lines and Mesoscale Convective Systems are multi-cell thunderstorms. Accounts for most of the severe weather reports
in the Great Lakes region.
Supercells a special type of single cell thunderstorm containing a rotating updraft the mesocyclone.
Thunderstorm Types
Cumulus Stage development begins with warm, moist air parcels being lifted. The parcels cool to the point were water
vapor condenses to clouds. The latent heat of condensation warms the air column allowing the water vapor in subsequent
parcels to condense at a higher level.
Mature Stage storm contains both an updraft and downdraft. The storm is at its greatest height and strength.. Rain,
lightning and thunder are present.
Dissipating Stage the downdraft and precipitation disrupts the storms updraft.
Thunderstorm Ingredients

Atmospheric Instability

Source of Lift

Wind Shear

Mid- & Upper-Level Support
Storm Prediction Center
Expressing Probability and Risk
Three Risk Categories

Slight: well-organized storms are
expected, but in small numbers and/or low
coverage. Approximately 5-25 reports of
large hail, 5-25 damaging wind reports
and/or 1 to 5 tornadoes.

Moderate: a greater concentration of
severe thunderstorms and greater
magnitude of severe weather.

High: a major severe weather outbreak
is expected with the potential for very
damaging wind gusts and/or 20 or more
NWS Marine Products
Near Shore Marine Forecast -- Issued for waters within 5 nautical miles from shore.
Off-shore Marine Forecast Issued for waters beyond 5 nautical miles from shore.
Small Craft Advisory -- Regional variations exist. Generally issued when the sustained wind or frequent gusts are
between 22 and 33 knots and/or waves greater than 4 feet.
Gale Warning Issued when sustained wind speeds are expected to be from 34 to 47 knots.
Storm Warning Issued when sustained wind speeds are expected to be from 48 to 63 knots.
Hazardous Weather Outlook A narrative statement produced by the National Weather Service, frequently issued on
a routine basis, to provide information regarding the potential of significant weather expected during the next 1 to 5
Marine Weather Statement -- A National Weather Service product to provide mariners with details on significant or
potentially hazardous conditions not otherwise covered in existing marine warnings and forecasts. Marine weather
statements are also used to supplement special marine warnings.
Marine Weather Warning -- issued for potentially hazardous weather conditions usually of short duration (up to 2
hours) producing sustained marine thunderstorm winds or associated gusts of 34 knots or greater; and/or hail 3/4 inch or
more in diameter; and/or waterspouts.
Handouts courtesy of Wegman, Hessler & Vanderburg, LPA