Tracking a Storm

When coastal cruising, storms are easy to track thanks to a plethora of options presented to you. On the technological side, you can pull up radar apps that will show you the storms and all the information about them. For a more low tech method, you can look at the clouds and their relationship to the landmarks beneath them. Watching the clouds move over buildings or mountains will let you see which way the storm is moving and advise you on the steps you need to take.

If the storm is moving away from you, just keep an eye on it and make sure that it continues to leave you alone. If the storm is stationary, continue to watch it and preferably sail away from it. If the storm is coming at you, either seek a safe harbor or reef down in preparation for the storm.

Now, all of these options disappear on the ocean. There is no "weather app" or internet to display information on your palm sized super computer. There are no landmarks to watch the clouds movements, making tracking a storm seem almost like black magic!

Thankfully, there is something on the open ocean that you can use to track a storm, something better than a wave or a sea bird, your compass. You want to pick a defining feature in the storm, such as the edge of the rain curtain, or the edge of the shelf cloud, or the towering spire that will become a squall cloud. Once you have a "cloud feature" identified, figure out its bearing to you on the compass and keep tabs on it. Over time, it should change bearings to you, which would indicate that it is moving either left or right of you. If it is not changing in bearing to you, it could either be stationary or moving closer to you. This is only distinguishable by seeing if the clouds look closer to you than they did before.

For example: a nasty squall cloud is on your port side. The clouds left edge is at 180 and the clouds right edge is at 210 on the compass. Five minutes later, the left edge is at 190 and the ridge edge is at 220. A little while later, its from 200 to 230. This means that the squall is moving laterally and away from you. Since you have a bearing to it and a heading for the storm, you can easily plot a route that will take you around the storm and avoid dealing with those conditions while out in the open ocean.

While it may seem frightening to not be able to hide from a storm on the ocean, it's really not that bad! You have an uninterrupted view of the horizon in all directions, and storm clouds are big and tall. You will see them hundreds of miles away, allowing you to track them and figure out where to sail to avoid dealing with them. Since you are on the open ocean, there is no reef, pass, or channel that is restricting your direction and point of sail. Getting off course for a few minutes is inconsequential as it is very easy to get back on course once the system has passed.

Ocean sailing may seem daunting, but in reality it is very relaxing and easy. All you have to do is keep an eye on the weather around you and plan accordingly.