Weather Watch

Gulf cleanup takes our boats

Who would ever guess that a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would affect our ability to forecast weather and oceanographic conditions along the Central Coast?

Most of us enjoy a good rain or watching large waves crashing along our beautiful coastline and the surfers who harness the waves’ power for enjoyment. But it’s also serious business for those who make their living from the sea and others who rely on accurate weather forecasting.

To help predict storms and swells that move in from the Pacific, the National Data Buoy Center at the Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the Coastal Data Information Program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego operate a vast network of buoys that dot the Pacific Ocean.

These marine buoys provide invaluable weather and ocean-wave data and act as long-range sentinels. Pressure or wind data from these buoys makes it much easier to evaluate a storm that you suspect is intensifying.

Because of the importance of this network, the buoy center, in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard services, deploys and retrieves these buoys. Earlier this year, the Cape San Martin buoy No. 28 about 55 nautical miles west-northwest of Morro Bay failed. The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Aspen (a sea-going buoy tender boat) stationed out of Alameda repaired the buoy last month, and it is now back online.

But — and here’s the rub — the Aspen has since been diverted to the Gulf of Mexico because it is equipped with an advanced oil-skimming system know as the Spilled Oil Recovery System. As a result, it is no long available to service the buoys.

As I’ve written before, over the last year, two other key NOAA marine buoys that help forecast weather and oceanographic conditions along the Central Coast became inoperative. The California marine buoy No. 59, stationed about 357 nautical miles west of San Francisco, went adrift in January 2009 and has not reported since. SE Papa marine buoy No. 06, moored about 600 nautical miles west of Eureka, stopped broadcasting Jan. 9.

The buoy center has replacement marine buoys fully tested and ready for deployment just sitting in their yard. But because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it may be some time before these buoys are put into service. Many other U.S. Coast Guard vessels are being diverted to the Gulf of Mexico to help mitigate the largest oil spill in United States history.

On a positive note, the data information program, in collaboration with the University of Washington, is planning to deploy a waverider buoy at the SE Papa station at the end of this month. Like the waverider buoy that Pacific Gas and Electric Company operates and maintains off the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, this buoy provides wave and seawater temperature data but not any direct atmospheric measurements such as wind or pressure.

Nevertheless, wave spectral information can provide a treasure trove of useful data that can be directly related to future weather and oceanographic conditions along the Central Coast.

Today’s forecast

A very strong 1,041-millibar Eastern Pacific high will take a position about 600 miles to the west-northwest of San Luis Obispo and remain nearly stationary while a thermal low develops over the Central Valley.

The strong to gale-force northwesterly winds that we’ve been experiencing along the coastal regions over the last week have shifted northward off Northern California. This change in the winds has left behind mostly clear and warmer weather with abundant sunshine.

Today’s high temperatures will range from the low to mid-90s in the interior and the high 70s to low 80s in the coastal valleys.

Because of the gentle and variable winds along the coastline, temperatures will range from the mid-60s to the low 70s at beaches.

Slightly cooler temperatures will occur Monday along the coast as the northwesterly (onshore) winds increase and the marine layer returns. However, the coastal valleys and interior temperatures are expected to remain warm.

Cooler weather is expected for most of next week as fresh to strong (19 and 31) northwesterly (onshore) winds return along the coastline and the marine layer surges into the coastal valleys and the northern parts of the interior by way of the Salinas Valley during the night and morning hours.

This is a fairly stable weather pattern and little change is expected the following week.

Today’s surf report

The wind fields have shifted northward off the Northern California coastline, leaving behind a 4- to 6-foot northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) swell (with an 8- to 13-second period) along our coastline today.

An intense 978-millibar late-season storm developed in the Gulf of Alaska on Friday. A northwesterly swell from this storm combined with northwesterly seas off Northern California will produce 7- to 9-foot northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 7- to 12-second period) Monday.

This northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) sea and swell will further build to 8 to 10 feet (with a 7- to 11-second period) on Tuesday and will remain at this height and period through Wednesday.

A 5- to 7-foot northwesterly (300-degree deep-water) sea and swell (with a 7- to 11-second period) is forecast along our coastline on Thursday through next Saturday.

Arriving from the Southern Hemisphere:

Today’s 1- to 2-foot Southern Hemisphere (215-degree deep-water) swell (with an 18- to 20-second period) will build to 2 to 3 feet (with a 16- to 18-second period) Monday. This swell will remain at this height but with a gradually decreasing period through Wednesday.

Seawater temperatures will range between 52 and 55 degrees through Monday, decreasing to 51 and 53 degrees Tuesday and will remain at this level through Friday.

Conservation tip

Water is about 800 times denser than air. Waves and tides contain a great deal more potential kinetic energy than the winds for the same area or footprint.

This energy can be converted into electricity. PG&E will continue to evaluate different hydrokinetic devices that may play an increasingly important role in generating clean energy for California. For information, visit 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 more than 23 years. If you have a question, send him an e-mail at