Another weekend blow has spared the grouper, once again.
On Tuesday, the weekend forecast looked promising: east winds 5-10 knots, seas 2 feet. I, and probably many others, made plans to head offshore for gag grouper before the seasonal closure on Nov. 15.
As the week pushed on, the forecast got worse and worse. Finally, the front blew through Friday, leaving behind nearly 10-foot seas and 25-knot winds, canceling any trips that were planned. While another weekend to head offshore has passed, it gives me a chance to share what I’ve learned about predicting weather and seeing what conditions are right now.
I have five websites bookmarked that I regularly go to for weather, helping me decide what plans to make.
The first is the official National Weather Service (NWS) forecast at www.srh.noaa.gov/tbw. By clicking our regional waters, you can see the daily forecast up to five days out. Along with winds, it will predict seas. Many boaters complain their forecasts can be off and rougher than predicted.
While the NWS gives you a daily forecast, perhaps my new favorite site for winds gives you a broken-down look at what the conditions will be throughout the day. Sailflow.com is designed for sailing, and I’ve found it to be the most accurate at predicting winds.
From the drop-down menu on the top left of the site, pick FL -- Tampa. On the map, click the area you’re interested in seeing winds for, such as Anna Maria or Egmont Key. The graph below will show you a breakdown of previous winds, the current winds and the predicted winds and direction.
This is great for knowing if winds will be calming in the afternoon or predicting what time a cold front will be coming through. This past week, Sailflow accurately predicted the timing of the cold front. If you have an iPhone, there is a free app called “WindAlert.” It is a simple interface and my most trusted source for wind predictions.
For knowing current conditions, I check buoy reports at www.ndbc.noaa.gov/maps/Florida.shtml. The 42036 buoy is located about 106 miles offshore of Tampa. It shows not only winds but current wave heights and wave direction. This is helpful to determine current offshore conditions, and you can go back to check if you feel like seas were much larger than expected.
If you click on the box around the Tampa Bay area, you can check wind and tide reports at local stations. The CWBF1 and SAPF1 stations show current tide conditions (click on the Water Level link when on a station page), helping determine what wind conditions are doing to tide levels.
Last week, tides were a full foot below predictions as a result of strong northeast winds. This can severely affect how fish act. This is a great site to have on hand on your phone, as well, to see tide levels and movement that you can’t always predict while on the water.
The last two sites I visit regularly are saltwatertides.com and baynews9.com. Saltwatertides.com is a simple site to determine short-term and long-term tides. It shows moon phases, sunrise and sunset and tide heights.
Baynews9.com has the best radar, allowing users to see how storms are tracking. It is easily accessible on mobile phones, allowing users to click on individual counties and see exact locations of storms.
If you’d like an easy way to visit these sites, I have them listed on my website at captainchappy.com on the Weather tab. I highly suggest visiting them before each boating or outdoor trip, to help you stay safe and let you determine what plans to make.