Weather Watch:
Wind, Waves And Safety


As early as 1904, Navy radio offered weather information on the West Coast. With increasing sophistication, forecasters ashore have been able to communicate predictions to ships at sea. Information from seagoing ships on local conditions remains important to our understanding of weather patterns.

Electronic technologies related to radio - radar, sonar depth-finders, LORAN, radio-direction finders and GPS - have vastly increased a mariner's ability to navigate through hazardous sea conditions. Local vessel traffic control radio systems also assist in averting collisions during conditions of limited visibility. Radio in all its forms - from spark-gap to satellite microwave - has been the mariner's lifeline for help. Radio can alert the world to the situation of the lonely mariner and save lives.

Above: Fog blankets the Golden Gate,obscuring visibility about 200 days a year. Radio weather forecasting and the Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service make navigating this narrow strait much safer. Photo Staff Photographers, SFMNHP.

Hurricane Bonnie, in September of 1992, as seen from the Space Shuttle Endeavor's aft flight deck windows.
Left: The tanker Tidewater battles through the seas off Cape Hatteras in 1940. No matter how strong the vessel, there are sea conditions which can overwhelm her.

Right: Heavy weather at sea has claimed many ships. Before the days of radio communication, ships simply "went missing" and were never heard from again. The four-masted bark Passat is seen here. Photo SFMNHP, J9.20,808n.