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Maritime forecast areas to change Tuesday

Posted: September 28, 2013 - 11:11pm

KODIAK — Sailors are used to changing weather. When it comes to the ocean, that’s about the only reliable thing.

The National Weather Service provides the best glimpse into what the changing weather will bring, but starting Oct. 1, it’s the forecasts themselves that will be changing.

On that date, forecasters will change the boundaries of their forecast areas in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. It’s a small change on the map, but it promises a big difference for sailors who rely upon the weather service’s marine forecasts.

“We got a lot of feedback that our marine zones are too large,” said Louise Fode, marine program manager for the weather service.

To address those concerns, the weather service is cutting some of its maritime forecast zones into smaller pieces. The waters north of the Kodiak archipelago, for example, will be divided by the Barren Islands. Instead of issuing a forecast for waters surrounding the islands, forecasters will issue one forecast east of the islands and one west of the islands.

It may sound like a small change, but it will have a big impact. When easterly winds blow, the waters west of the islands are calmer. When the wind roars up the Shelikof Strait, charting a course east of the islands may make sense.

To a tug hauling a barge, smoother seas mean quicker deliveries and less fuel burned. That saves money and reduces the dangers inherent in working atop a wildly pitching deck.

The Barren Islands aren’t the only place that will change. Cook Inlet has been split into two areas, and the waters off the entrance to Prince William Sound have also been split.

In Bristol Bay, new forecast areas have been created to more accurately reflect the needs of the salmon fishermen who sail those waters.

When drawing the new map, Fode said, forecasters tried to think of geographical barriers or landmarks that affect the weather. The weather north of the Aleutians isn’t the same as the weather south of the chain, but the existing forecast map treats both equally.

Forecasters have added text clarifications to their predictions, but that isn’t as useful as a distinct and specific forecast, she said.

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