Sunday, March 29, 2009

Outdoors and Data-Obsessed

A few data products, including an interpolation of the Navy W3 Wind/Wave Model (top), Fishing Barometer (lower left), Navy FNMOC Model (lower center), and Sea Surface Temp Map (lower right)
So, we are preparing to depart for South Carolina's "Low Country" in a few days. Chief among our concerns (well, perhaps secondary to "will we still be employed when we return?") are
  • what will the weather be?
  • how will the surf be?
  • will the fish be biting?
  • will the wind & tides cooperate with kayaking plans?

Due to the many data products available on the internet, many of them totally free, we can get a "pretty good idea" of what's in store for us. Those of you who write or read blogs like this undoubtedly use this data to plan your own trips and outings. I'm just old enough to remember how "it used to be," and to have witness how fast it changed.

In the summer of 1994, I was 20 years old and living at the beach. I had a pretty easy job at the local Air Force Base, and lucky for me, that job ended promptly at 3:30pm every day, allowing me enough time to run down to the beach for a few hours of surfing with 100,000 of my closest friends (ahhh, Virginia Beach in the summer). How did I know it was worth the 20 mile, 45 minute drive and feeding the meter on 4th Street? Well, I would watch the weather channel during my lunch break, and see what the wind was doing. There was no internet surf forecast or report of any kind available, so if I was lucky, I could call one of two local surf reports (WRV and 17th Street), and if the line wasn't busy, and if they had bothered to put down the bong long enough to record an afternoon update, I "might" have an idea of the surf conditions. "Might" because the WRV report was overly cynical, "Virginia Beach sucks today, just go to North Carolina," while the 17th Street report was overly...just over the top..."Yeah buddies, it's 7 foot and clean here on this 95 degree day with no storms or wind. Get down here and shred some waves, and remember to stop by the shop for some neon muscle shirts on your way home, COWABUNGA!"

UGH. Needless to say, you could hear both of those reports on an afternoon where a ridable 2 foot wave would come in about every 15-20 minutes. Fun times, and worth going, but not really exciting.

Fast forward to Summer, 1998. Doing my Masters internship at the Old Dominion University Coastal Lab working most days in Norfolk, VA (about 18 miles from the oceanfront). Now, armed with almost daily access to internet marine forecasts (NOAA), the USGS Tide Prediction Website, and the US Navy's FNMOC Wind-Wave Model, I could actually have a much better idea of what awaited me at the beach after work. It was occasionally wrong, but I saved myself many worthless drives, and also, when conditions looked promising, managed my work days to allow some flexibility toward the end of the day.

But data isn't enough - data by itself lends people to "cyberscouting," which has gotten to be a huge problem in most outdoor sports (and a topic for a later post). Folks using "remote data" ranging from Google Earth to raw weather data have been getting themselves into pretty rough situations all over the world by not having one of two critical items that should be on every outdoorsman's and outdoorswoman's list:

  • local knowledge (or access to someone with local knowledge) of how to interpret data for local conditions, i.e. "fish never bite in that river on a NW wind."
  • time to properly scout and prepare for the local conditions - being there to learn for yourself.

So for this trip to South Carolina, I've got a little bit of both of those - this is our third trip to the "Low Country" in four years. All of those trips have been between January and mid-April. So hopefully? I'm right on the money. Here's what I'm interpreting so far:


  • Thursday: outstanding 2-3' surf on the incoming tide in the morning; conditions deteriorating through the day (side-shore winds)
  • Friday: 2-4' choppy conditions in weather. Possible ridable conditions before dusk
  • Saturday: tough forecast. Will depend on storm track - great conditions at 3'+ if the wind switches offshore during favorable tide
  • Sunday: 2' marginal ridable conditions. Mid-day low tide, blah.
  • Monday: building surf with deteriorating conditions (onshore winds / storm)


  • Redfish / Red Drum - will depend on if we can get some clean water on the outgoing tide. Reports say that there are some big fish around, so I'm going to take my time and try to find where they are.
  • Seatrout - I doubt we will catch any. They are supposedly schooled up and biting on specific soft plastic lures - I have something similar to what's successful, so let's see if I can make it happen?

I'll report back daily on how poor my forecasting is! And remember, scout, scout, scout!


tugboatdude said...

I seriously hope you and the lady have a great time.You both deserve a break from life.Catch a trout for me!

{nUtTyPrOfFeSsOr} said...

Sawsum. The 90's surf reports are spot on cuz I remember the same info, but I would park at 68th street and drink/ play frisbee all afternoon near my buddies casa.

Kirk Mantay said...

north end va beach was the best. people were so much more laid back up there. but still, you remember how you'd have to go from street to street to find a legal parking space in front of somebody's house?

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