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Weather forecaster reaching out

Jan 1, 2003

An impassioned weather forecaster with the National Weather Service has been traveling the country on outreach expeditions in an attempt to make marine weather data more accessible to professional and recreational sailors. Lee Chesneau, a senior forecaster for the NWS Marine Prediction Center (MPC) in Silver Spring, Md., is passionate about weather, but, more important, he is intent on providing mariners with detailed weather information. "

Mariners need to have access to information at sea so that they can be safe. And they can access our products in a lot of ways, but it's always surprising to learn how little is known about what we do at the Marine Prediction Center," Chesneau said recently at an Ocean Navigator School of Seamanship seminar on weather forecasting and routing. The seminar, taught by Michael Carr, aims to educate people on weather patterns and the use of weather sensing and forecasting equipment available to the recreational and commercial sailor. The MPC provides weather forecasting in voice, text, and chart broadcasts for all of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. As a staff forecaster, Chesneau interprets weather and makes forecasts. He also spends a significant amount of time attending boat shows, lecturing at seminars, and visiting local forecasting offices to explain the purpose and services of the MPC.

Chesneau said that the most important "products," as charts and forecasts are called by the NWS, are surface chartsalong with the surface analysiscombined with 500-mb jet stream charts, which sailors can use to make educated decisions about weather routing. He cited the recent loss of more than 400 containers by commercial ships in the Pacific as an example of what can go wrong if little attention is paid to weather forecasts.

"That storm was predicted well in advance. There was no reason for those ships to be overtaken and damaged so severely," Chesneau said. The storm resulted in more than $100 million in lost cargo aboard four ships. "Yacht sailors should take advantage of the quality information provided for no charge. American taxpayers are paying for our work, so they should use it."

The early prediction of the tornadoes that stomped across Oklahoma in early May, Chesneau said, is a good example of how well a weather warning system can work if people are informed about protocol in advance. "In Oklahoma people knew exactly what to do when the warnings came out. But in the marine community we're not at that level yet. What motivates me more than anything is that most people don't have a clue about what goes on at the Marine Prediction Center, and when interpreting weather information it is essential for people to know what resources are available," he said. "It's my hope that in meeting with mariners they will learn how to make educated decisions about weather. You can read all the books and articles you want about weather, but most of the material requires interaction and discussion and a desire to understand. Visit www.noaa.gov or call 301-763-8441 for detailed information on products and services.