Tuesday, May 29, 2012

NOAA strikes again

Memorial Day weekend found us in the Bayfield peninsula after the annual Saturday wood making event at CampO near the Wisconsin/Michigan border.  The weather forecast was threatening but to paraphrase one of the members of the camp, 'If you believed everything you heard on the weather forecast you'd never do nuthin!'.  This truism held when we headed back over to Washburn after a pontoon ride, an adult beverage or two, and a refreshing sauna.

I had delivered a talk Monday at the last ISK indoor session before the summer break on wind and weather in the Apostles.  The subtitle was 'NOAA forecast or a wet finger held in the air?'.  The Memorial weekend nearshore forecast was full of Small Craft Warnings, waves 2-4' building to 3-5', northeast winds and marauding thunderstorms.  An analysis of all the information, including several links on the right side of this collection of drivel, would seem to generate a markedly different conclusion though.  The main weather event of the weekend was a thunderstorm late Saturday night that carved new drainage ditches on the hill at our joint in Washburn, muddied up the big lake, and caused patrons to leave Patsy's Bar two by two, looking for the ark.  A first hand report from a well known area kayak and high end lodging entrepreneur informed us that many of the ISK folks at Little Sand Bay had left Saturday after paddling Bark Bay and playing in the waves off LSB.  In retrospect this was very wise given the thunderstorm and deluge as I suspect some tents would have been floating.  Those who stayed around however,  enjoyed some excellent paddling on Sunday and Monday, even though the official weather experts would have had you believe otherwise. 

A quick Sunday morning look at the radar, realtime wave site, and Devils Island weather station seemed to indicate that there wasn't a three foot wave anywhere on Lake Superior, even though these swells were still being discussed on NOAA weather radio, channel 7.  Wind reports from the reporting stations such as Port Wing, Sand Island, and Oak Point Wisconsin seemed to indicate that the mix of fetch, duration, and wind speed necessary to create a three foot wave were not present on Gitchee Gumee that day.  The BessemerConvivialist, ManFromSnowyLegs, and FiddleJohn ventured out off Houghton Point, an area that a northeast wind both sculpted and continues to ravage yearly, and reported that the nearshore was a bit off.  The MFSL, a man raised in Australia on the metric system, opined that perhaps they got their feet mixed up with centimeters on the wave report.  They did report adequate surfing off the coal dock in Washburn with one to two footers piling up a bit.

Monday's NOAA nearshore forecast persisted with the 2-4 footers even though the wind report was 5-10 mph out of the north and NOAA's very own realtime wave site had one foot waves all over the lake.  Once again a three foot wave can be created  by a 15mph wind blowing for seven hours over a 40 mile fetch.  I just don't get the math or the disconnect when issuing such a forecast based on the other information available, or maybe even by looking out your window at the Duluth NOAA office.  Once again we checked the radar, stuck our fingers in the air, and decided to take a young lady, MsKirbette, out for her very first kayak experience on the big lake.  Long Lake was discussed but the two to four centimeter waves and sunshine convinced us, a crew with three ACA Instructors, that we might be able to chance it.  It came off without a hitch, she paddled through her first sea cave, and had a wonderful time.  I got the old wooden Chesapeake out and we paddled water made murky from the clay washed into the lake by the previous evenings gully washer storm. Along the way we ran into one of the ISK folks who had arrived late on Sunday and she joined the crew.  It was a nice paddle on a nice day and a fitting end to the Memorial Day weekend.

The moral of this story is to use all the resources at your disposal when making the decision on whether to paddle or not.  Any one taken individually can throw a person off their paddling game.  The human brain is the best computer and, with a bit of experience, can synthesize lots of info and combine it with personal observations to come up with good decisions.  The Apostles are is a microclimate and the wind direction on Monday was 180 degrees opposite between Ashland and Devils Island. In defense of the nearshore, its really tough to generate a forecast that is correct at both Port Wing, Bayfield, and Saxon Harbor. The place that your radio can really help is when the thunderstorms are rolling through as they did both Saturday and Sunday night.  The weather radio will give you realtime info on wind, rain, any hail, and most importantly speed and location of the cell.  If one of your chart/maps is a simple Wisconsin highway map, you can track where the storm is, its direction, and when it will arrive at your location.  This is invaluable when planning your immediate movements  on or off the water. Use all of your weather resources, including your wet finger in the air, to make safe and intelligent decisions on Lake Superior paddling.

Finally, Memorial Day or Decoration Day as they called it when we graybeards were young pups, is a time of reflection and thanks.  I would have to guess that there is not a person reading this post that does not have a close relative, friend, or acquaintance that served. In my male lineage including grandfather, father, and No2 son, CptO, I'm the only guy who didn't serve.  I appreciate greatly those who did and would hope that in the upcoming year, with all it's political importance, that we use those hard won freedoms to inform ourselves and make the crucial distinction in the battle between propaganda and education. Happy paddling and happy Memorial Day folks.

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