While attending a U.S. Navy Oceanography class many years ago, a salty old master chief told us about a scale we could use while flying above the ocean to gauge wind speeds from the appearance of waves and swells.
Later in my naval career, I also discovered that this clear and concise scale could also be used by landlubbers.
In the early 1800s, British Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort devised this wind scale. Beaufort was a clever young hydrographer in the Admiralty.
He was born in 1774 in Ireland to a large family whose well-educated father, Daniel Augustus Beaufort, dabbled in many different careers as he kept one step ahead of the debt collectors.
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Daniel was interested in just about everything, including map making. His sense of curiosity was certainly passed on from father to son.
Francis Beaufort, for whom the sea between Russia and Alaska was named, loved to take bearings and produce detailed charts and maps.
From his earliest years, he longed to make observations from the deck of a ship. At the ripe old age of 14, he set sail on the Vansittart, an East India Company trade ship to the Pacific. The ship sank in 1789 in the Java Sea by running aground. He made his way back to England on another ship and eventually joined the Royal Navy. He quickly rose through the ranks.
During Beaufort’s time, the world’s ships ran on wind and not oil. He recognized the need to produce a wind scale so other sailors could communicate their wind observations.
In January 1806, he devised a scale of 13 wind classes, based on how the canvas on a tall ship would behave. For example, the highest wind on Beaufort’s scale was defined as “That which no canvas could withstand.”
This standard proved to be immensely useful for mariners. Ship crews knew what to expect when they ventured into waters with a certain wind force.
In 1838, the Beaufort scale became mandatory information for log entries in all British vessels.
The meteorological community took longer and it wasn’t until 1874 that the International Meteorological Committee agreed on the appropriate phenomena on sea and land to determine wind speeds.
Today we define the Beaufort scale in terms of actual wind speeds, measured 10 meters above the ground. Over my many years of writing a daily weather forecast, I’ve always used this scale to describe the winds.
This week’s forecast
The emerald green hills of April are transitioning to a golden-brown hue of May. The coastal stratus is making itself more well known on this Mother’s Day as we roll toward June.
Dramatic cooling, which occurred along the coast yesterday, will progress to the North County today, resulting in much cooler temperatures. In fact, temperatures will only reach the 60s throughout San Luis Obispo County.
Strong to gale force (25- to 38-mph) northwesterly (onshore) winds will develop along the coast this afternoon.
The upper-level charts indicate the jet stream will flow from Washington state south through the Central Coast later today through Monday.
This jet will drive a late season Pacific cold front southward through California. Clouds are forecast to increase today into Monday leading to areas of night and morning drizzle along the coastline and precipitation as far south as Monterey Bay and across the Sierra.
Snow levels are forecast to drop to around 5,000 and 6,000 feet tonight into early Monday.
A high-pressure ridge will build over California Tuesday and Wednesday and temperatures will rebound with gradual warming both days. Current indications are that more cool and unsettled weather are possible late this week.
Surf and sea report
Strong- to gale-force (25- to 38-mph) northwesterly winds along the California coastline will produce a 4- to 6-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 12-second period) this afternoon and will continue at this height and period through tonight, increasing to 6 to 8 feet (with a 7- to 11-second period) Monday.
A 5- to 7-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) swell (with an 8- to 14-second period) is forecast along our coastline on Tuesday, decreasing to 3 to 5 feet (with an 8- to 11-second period) Wednesday through Thursday morning.
Another round of northwesterly winds will generate a 4- to 6-foot northwesterly (310-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 5- to 9-second period) Thursday afternoon through Saturday.
Seawater temperatures will range between 50 and 52-degrees through this morning, decreasing to 49 and 51 degrees this afternoon and remaining at this level through Tuesday.
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John Lindsey is a media relations representative for PG&E. He is also a local weather expert and has lived along the Central Coast for nearly 25 years. To subscribe to his daily weather forecast or ask him a question, email firstname.lastname@example.org.