Weather Watch

Buoys help forecasters see into the future

The Waverider Buoy flots in front of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant at sunset. The buoy is maintained by PG&E and data from it helps meteorologists predict weather.
The Waverider Buoy flots in front of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant at sunset. The buoy is maintained by PG&E and data from it helps meteorologists predict weather.

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

One of the Scripps buoys is stationed right off the coast of San Luis Obispo County at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. It’s maintained and operated by PG&E. Near real-time wave data from this and other Scripps buoys can be seen at

Last year’s federal government shutdown and sequester affected NOAA’s National Data Buoy network. They had to delay maintenance, repair and replacement on their network of marine buoys.

The loss of these NOAA marine buoys can complicate a forecaster’s job. You see, at our latitude, storms generally move from west to east, directed primarily by the jet stream over the vast blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

As these storms move in from the sea, the NOAA marine offshore buoy network provides invaluable weather and ocean wave data.

These offshore buoys are stationed about 500 miles or more off the coast of Northern California, Oregon and Washington and act as long-range sentinels. Without these buoys, little weather or wave data is available from their region, and weather forecasters can only hope for a ship report to clarify the situation.

It’s serious business for those who make their living from the sea and others who rely on accurate weather forecasting.

Two key NOAA buoys off the Northern California coastline are currently inoperative: The California marine buoy No. 59, stationed about 357 nautical miles west of San Francisco and the SE Papa marine buoy No. 06, moored about 600 nautical miles west of Eureka at a water depth of more than 13,000 feet.

The California marine buoy went adrift in May 2012 and was recovered in June 2012. The SE Papa marine buoy went adrift in January 2013 and stop transmitting in February of that year. It was never recovered and may have found its way to Davy Jones’s locker — the bottom of the sea.

To make matters worse, the Southeast Hawaii buoy about 200 miles southeast of Hilo went adrift in March of this year and was recovered in May. This buoy can determine the height and period of southern hemisphere swells that arrive along the California coastline during the summer months.

One of our nearest NOAA marine buoys, the Cape San Martin buoy — 55 nautical miles west-northwest of Morro Bay — has been broadcasting only intermittently.

Fortunately, this sad situation is about turn around later this summer. The NDBC in partnership with the U.S. Coast Guard is scheduled to replace or repair these buoys.

In August, a Coast Guard Sea Going Buoy Tender is booked to redeploy both the California and the SE Papa marine buoys. Another Coast Guard tender will replace the southeast Hawaii buoy in July. The repair of the Cape San Martin buoy is planned to take place in September.

These replacements and repairs will happen just in time to help predict this winter’s possible El Niño driven storms.


With the summer months upon us, more people are out on the water. Here are some boating safety tips.

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