Click here for Merit McCrea – WHEELHOUSE SCOOP

Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Thursday, July 25, 2019
Currently speaking

Online sources — weather and water conditions
One of the major advantages of our modern mass communication system through the internet is the availability to access all kinds of oceanographic info. These are things like sea surface temperature maps, water color images, weather models, high resolution bathymetry, even real-time ship locations. Here I'm going to run through some of my favorite freebies, their addresses, what they show best and how to run them.

Most avid anglers are well familiar with catch reporting websites like and These are great for seeing daily catches from the sport landings. But there's a heck of a lot more available that's all no charge.

Starting with weather models, my fav. is They have both a website (computer) and an app (phone and tablet). This powerful map based weather forecast model display offers access to see the very stuff TV weathermen use to base their own broadcasts on.

You can select from the NAM (North American Mesoscale Forecast System), the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) and the GFS (Global Forecast System). Each has its own strengths, weaknesses and personality.

The NAM's strength is its much higher resolution and ability to capture the localized effects of the topography — islands, mountain ranges, etc. Its weaknesses are it's only run forward 72 hours or so and it only includes North America, offshore to maybe 300 miles or so. Running out only 3 days at most, its personality is lackluster as at that point all models tend to agree anyway.

The U.S. counterpart to our high-resolution close range model is the GFS. Covering the entire globe, it has both the lowest spatial resolution and largest time steps. It's run forward as far as 9 days.

Its personality is safe and sane. As you look farther forward in time it's much more likely to show much closer to what the usual weather for the season and date and less likely to let wild model outcomes push the forecast into the realm of the bizarre.

The ECM is also a global model, covering the entire earth. Higher resolution than the GFS, it also is run forward 9 days.

But the ECM is the wild child. If the whims of physics and math project the mildly incredible 8 days from now, that's what it tends to show.

Your news weathergirl tends to do three things with this info. First, she won't stand behind any forecast past 3-days forward, and only so long as all models are saying the same thing. Second, most of the time she'll leave out anything that has to do with wind direction or weather out at sea. Third, all she cares about is rain, red flag warnings, temperature and cloud cover. So if you're wondering whether you'll get smooth seas or the tar beat out of you crossing to San Nicolas Island tonight, you're out of luck.

Once you get to the site, the lower right side shows the model choices. Across the bottom you'll see the time line, and you can let it auto advance like a movie or step it forward on your own.

Along the upper right side there are options including the all-important wind forecast. Down at the bottom of this control bar is "more layers..." Clicking this accesses a full range of observation layers and allows you to customize what you want on that control bar.

Just below that bar is a secondary bar. Here you can select what altitude level you want your forecast map to show, from the surface on up into the atmosphere above the jet stream — fun stuff — but I always keep the forecast clamped to the surface.

There's a login option but you don't have to have an account to use this website and I don't.

Finally, if you click on a spot on the map, it will show you a flag with the value at that point, as in the wind speed forecast for that point at the time you have showing on the time slider along the bottom.

There is a tricky bit. Just above the model selector is a selection bar that allows you to see current observations like wind speed at each of the islands and weather buoys. However, this is actual current data and does not reflect the forecast. Those numbers remain as they actually are right now, even if you slide the time slider to a week from now, unlike the model reader flag.

As for sea surface temperature or SST, my two freebie favorites are and State of the Ocean ( Tempbreak is totally sportfishing oriented and localized for our area, while SOTO is totally science nerd and global.

When it comes to ocean observations it's important to remember those data are totally dependant on clear skies, and it may take several satellite passes before you get a clear shot of the SST or water color.

Tempbreak is broken up into regions. "Southern California BITE ZONE!" and "Morro Bay – Channel Islands" are the two covering our zone. You select these at the top of the page. Because cloud cover regularly wipes out a portion of the map, there are composite views built that use the information gathered over several passes — sometimes more than a week's worth — to build a complete coverage.

Of course that means some of it can be considerably older than others. But you also have a choice of flipping back pass by pass through the more recent images and check them out for yourself.

Water color data are gathered as the amount of green light observed, chlorophyll a to be exact. So you'll see it as Chl-a.

Here the data are illustrated on a "log scale." That's like the Richter Scale for earthquake magnitude. Each number higher relates to ten times as much as the previous number.

The important aspect is the difference in blueness in actual water color at the lowest levels shown is subtle (shown in blues and greens on the map), while the differences at the higher end (yellows and reds on the map) are huge.

For the SOTO there are a great many things to choose from and a great many options for displaying them, in true science geek fashion.

I look at SST, ocean color and Sea Surface Temperature Anomaly — SSTA. The controls are on the upper left, time slider across the bottom. This display runs SST differently than the Tempbreak map. It uses the real data where it has it and fills in the places where it doesn't on the basis of modeling and the most recent data for that spot.

You always see a full map coverage for SST in SOTO for each day, but it loses definition and sharpness where it has to fill in the blanks. As for Ocean Color, that's data only and you'll see holes in the map where clouds covered the water on any given day.

One of the things you can do on this site is called "Squash pallet" and it allows you to make the full color gradient be covered over a small temperature range, giving you very high resolution between temps. Click the 3 vertical dots to see this option.

Finally, SSTA — it's the difference between the observed SST and the average SST for the given day and place. It allows you to see if the water is warmer or cooler than normal and by how much.

There's so much more available online too, swell forecast, past wind obs., real time vessel locations too — but that will have to do for now.

* * *

Merit McCrea is saltwater editor for Western Outdoor News. A veteran Southern California partyboat captain, he is a marine research scientist with the Dr. Milton Love Lab at the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute. He can be reached at:

•   •   •   •   •

We hope you enjoyed this article on our no-charge website Of course, this site contains only a small fraction of the stories that Western Outdoor Publications produces each week in its two northern and southern editions and its special supplements. You can subscribe to the print issue that is mailed weekly and includes the easy flip-page full-color digital issues, or you can purchase a digital only subscription. Click here to see the choice.

Reader Comments
Be the first to comment!
Leave a Comment
* Name:
* Email:
Website (optional):
* Comment:

Advertise with Western Outdoor News