Out­doors

Fair Winds & Frol­ick­ing Seas

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY ED BROTAK

It’s a rare day that there isn’t some wind blow­ing across our part of Florida,” says Robert Van Win­kle, se­nior chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist for the NBC-2 Weather Team. And for those who live, work and play along South­west Florida’s coast, the wind can be a ma­jor fac­tor in their daily lives. It can con­trol the weather. It can con­trol the seas. Ask any­one who works near or on the wa­ter about the wind. They know about the wind. They have to.

The winds play a ma­jor role in de­ter­min­ing our weather. “If you want to fore­cast the weather in South­west Florida, you have to fore­cast the wind right first,” em­pha­sizes Van Win­kle. “In the win­ter we track north winds com­ing down the penin­sula as fronts move in.” Th­ese north winds bring in drier air and the oc­ca­sional cold snaps. In sum­mer, easterly winds are com­mon and mean a hot af­ter­noon. Showers and thun­der­storms de­velop in the af­ter­noon over the in­land ar­eas. With a west­erly wind in the morn­ing, showers that typ­i­cally de­velop over the Gulf overnight will of­ten af­fect the is­lands and even make it to the coastal towns.

“The im­por­tance of wind can­not be over­stated when it comes to fish­ing and boat­ing,” de­clares Capt. Noah Ste­wart of Cap­tain Noah’s Sani­bel Fish­ing Char­ters. “Fish­er­men de­velop a re­la­tion­ship with the wind,” says Ste­wart. “Savvy fish­er­men have their fa­vorite wind con­di­tions.”

No one is more de­pen­dent on the wind than a sailor. “Al­ways get a weather fore­cast be­fore you go out,” ad­vises Steve Col­gate, founder and chair­man of the Off­shore Sail­ing School, lo­cated at the South Seas Is­land Re­sort on Cap­tiva Is­land. Ac­cord­ing to Col­gate, sail­boats run best with wind speeds be­tween 10 and 15 knots. “With winds 20 to 30 knots, you’d need to re­duce sail area,” Col­gate points out.

Sail­boat rac­ing is the epit­ome of sail­ing and is one of the things Col­gate teaches. “A good wind fore­cast is es­sen­tial,” he says. “The best sailors can even use nearly calm winds.” And there is even a strat­egy (called tack­ing) for when winds are blow­ing away from your des­ti­na­tion.

To get a good wind fore­cast es­pe­cially if you are a mariner turn to the Marine Fore­cast Of­fice of the Na­tional Weather Ser­vice (NWS) in Ruskin, which han­dles all of Lee County. Fore­casts are made to cover up to 60 nau­ti­cal miles off shore. Safety is a ma­jor con­cern. “If ven­tur­ing off­shore, strong winds are a def­i­nite de­ter­rent and can be down­right danger­ous,”

THE IM­POR­TANCE OF WIND CAN­NOT BE OVER­STATED WHEN IT COMES TO FISH­ING AND BOAT­ING. FISH­ER­MEN DE­VELOP A RE­LA­TION­SHIP WITH THE WIND. SAVVY FISH­ER­MEN HAVE THEIR FA­VORITE WIND CON­DI­TIONS.”

—CAPT. NOAH STE­WART, CAP­TAIN NOAH’S SANI­BEL FISH­ING CHAR­TERS

stresses Ste­wart. The threat from winds has been long rec­og­nized by mariners. The Beau­fort scale was de­vel­oped in 1805 and re­lated winds to sea con­di­tions, from calm winds and smooth seas to hur­ri­cane winds and waves over 45 feet.

For many years, all Coast Guard sta­tions would in­di­cate ex­pected sea con­di­tions by fly­ing the familiar red-and-black pen­nants. But ac­cord­ing to Daniel Eaton of the Fort My­ers Coast Guard sta­tion, “With the avail­abil­ity of NWS broad­casts and the Coast Guard Lo­cal No­tice to Mariners on the VHF ra­dio, our sta­tion does not use the storm flag pro­gram.” How­ever, some sta­tions still fly the warn­ing flags.

Although the Beau­fort scale is not of­fi­cially used any­more, its le­gacy lives on in the of­fi­cial Marine Ad­vi­sories is­sued by the NWS. “Gale, storm, hur­ri­cane, etc. are all de­fined the same via Beau­fort scale and our prod­ucts,” says Ni­cole Carlisle, marine pro­gram leader for the NWS Ruskin of­fice. Thun­der­storms are the most com­mon marine threat in South­west Florida. The strong winds that can come out of the base of a thun­der­storm can even cap­size a boat. With over 100 thun­der­storms recorded each year in this part of the world, it is for­tu­nate that most thun­der­storms don’t pro­duce winds that dam­ag­ing.

IF YOU WANT TO FORE­CAST THE WEATHER IN SOUTH­WEST FLORIDA, YOU HAVE TO FORE­CAST THE WIND RIGHT FIRST.”

—ROBERT VAN WIN­KLE, NBC-2 WEATHER TEAM

True hur­ri­cane warn­ings are re­served for pow­er­ful trop­i­cal sys­tems. For­tu­nately, strong hur­ri­canes such as Hur­ri­cane Charley in 2004 sel­dom af­fect the South­west Florida coast. A Cat­e­gory 4 storm, Charley had winds well over 100 mph.

Wind can even af­fect how we feel out­side. The sea breeze is one of the ad­van­tages of living along the coast. “In the sum­mer months the sea breeze kicks in ev­ery af­ter­noon,” says Van Win­kle. Dur­ing the day, the land heats up much faster than the wa­ter un­der the strong sum­mer sun. The lower pres­sure over the hot land lit­er­ally pulls in air off the wa­ter. Although the wa­ter is warm, the land is hot­ter and the breeze is re­fresh­ing. It’s just like Seals & Crofts sang, “sum­mer breeze makes me feel fine.” Free­lance writer Ed Brotak is a re­tired me­te­o­rol­ogy pro­fes­sor turned stay-at-home dad. He and his fam­ily live in west­ern North Carolina but fre­quently va­ca­tion in Florida.

Stu­dents at the Off­shore Sail­ing School on Cap­tiva Is­land learn how to use the wind’s power to their ad­van­tage.

Se­nior chief me­te­o­rol­o­gist Robert Van Win­kle of the NBC-2 Weather Team in Fort My­ers tracks the weather be­fore go­ing on the air.

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