I often get asked how we get our weather info and what apps we like. The short answer is that we primarily use the following:
- Windy (iOS, Android, and Windows) – free
- Radar — various apps
- Hurricane Tracker ($5.99 for web access; $2.99 for iPad; $3.99 for Android)
- Marine Weather Center (aka Chris Parker) — email and SSB forecasts at varying prices
I’ll discuss each of these a little more below. At the end of this article, I’ll list a couple more that we “sometimes” use.
Apps, forecasting services and so on are all great. But as the former Sea of Cortez weather guru Don Anderson (Summer Passage) always said at the end of his forecast: “Local conditions will prevail. Don’t forget to look out the hatch!”
Two important notes: First, these are what we use for cruising Florida and the Bahamas. I’m sure other people will have other favorites — particularly for other areas of the world and ocean passages. (Please leave notes in the comments!) Second, all three of the apps require internet access; Marine Weather Center requires email access or an SSB receiver (see below, we prefer email).
I absolutely love Windy for giving, literally, the big picture of what the wind, wave and rain forecasts are. Colors show wind strength (or waves, rain, etc.) and arrows show direction. You can also set it in motion to see the changes hour by hour, day by day. You can zoom in and out as well. No forecast is ever 100%, but Windy has been pretty accurate for us.
Radar programs seem to come and go so I can’t recommend a specific one. I prefer ones that show how fast the storm cells are moving and in what direction.
Okay, there really isn’t anything in Hurricane Tracker that you can’t get on the (US) National Hurricane Center website (they do offer a bit of analysis but it’s not a lot different). What Hurricane Tracker does brilliantly is to make the information easy to access which is critical if you either have slow internet or pay by data used.
For each storm (and Invest and Potential Storm), Hurricane Tracker has all the NHC maps, satellite images and the official forecasts and discussion (they call the discussion NHC Analysis). It’s quick and easy to just tap or click from one to another, which it isn’t (at least to me) on the NHC site.
MARINE WEATHER CENTER
Marine Weather Center is the “proper” name for what most East Coat and Caribbean cruisers simply call “Chris Parker’s weather.”
Chris and his staff are full-time marine forecasters for this area and provide subscription forecasts both by SSB and email. If you subscribe on SSB, you can talk with him during his designated times for your location; we prefer email as it gives us more time to digest it, we can go back over it if we need to, and we’re not tied to a schedule for checking the weather. A couple of times we’ve emailed back with a question about a forecast and always received an answer within a few hours.
Yes, you can listen in on SSB without paying, but if you use their services with any frequency I suggest supporting MWC with a subscription — remember that this is a full-time occupation for the three forecasters, plus they have to pay for all the equipment they have.
Since Chris is a former cruiser, he understands weather as it applies to boats (what we care about, what is good for particular passages, etc.). He’s also done a great job of training the other forecasters who work with him on these things. The forecasts are quite accurate and, if anything, tend to err on the side of caution.
Check out all of Marine Weather Center‘s subscription packages from a single shot (at $10) to a year’s worth of both SSB and email ($295), with numerous options in between.
These are services that we don’t use all that often, but when we need them, they’re great.
Gulf Stream Location — not exactly weather but knowing the Gulf Stream location, velocity, and countercurrents can help in planning passages from Florida to the Bahamas. PassageWeather puts out a really nice graphic . . . unless you’re heading to Cuba or Mexico (then it’s cut off).
inReach Weather — when we don’t have internet coverage, getting weather info on our inReach fills in the gaps . . . somewhat. Read here about the forecasts available. In real life, when we were dodging two tropical systems, we found it better to contact a trusted cruising friend and having her pass the tropical info on to us as it was not available thru the inReach forecasts.
Learn the best practices to give your boat a fighting chance against a hurricane with Comprehensive Hurricane Preparation for Boaters: