The working life of a Volvo Ocean Race meteorologist is a hard and intense one.
They spend hours a day in front of the computer screen studying weather patterns; in the form of charts, figures and images; trying to get a good feel for the weather conditions. Each leg of the race presents a different challenge with new oceans, new currents and new weather systems to tackle and make use of.
In Miami, Florida this week, the meteorologist's lives were made a little bit easier, when a small group of team navigators and race organisers visited AOML (the Atlantic oceanographic and meteorological laboratory), a research department of NOAA (national oceanic and atmosphere administration). For each leg of the race, the eight competing teams are allowed to choose a number of websites, to assist with weather interpretation. A total of ten sites can be nominated, and the NOAA Internet site has been the most popular website so far.
AOML and NOAA collect weather information from a variety of sources, mainly European and US satellites, but also from weather buoys, which are distributed across the oceans, by shipping companies. This data is then displayed as real-time information, either as pure figures or in the format of maps. Three types of data were demonstrated to the group: sea surface temperature, wind, and sea height anomaly and the sailors were later given the chance to test the AOML website, to discover quick, effective routes to accessing this data.
The informative briefing was organised by Chris Bedford, illbruck Challenge's shore-side meteorologist. Bedford's role within the team is key. Each day he spends at least three or four hours with skipper John Kostecki, and navigator, Juan Vila, discussing the strategy for the next leg. He has played an important part in many sailing campaigns including being part of Dennis Connor's Americas Cup challenges in 1987, 1988 and 1992, as well as consulting with the US Olympic Sailing team.
Bedford is a member of the American meteorological society; national council of industrial meteorologists, and the commercial weather services association; and strongly advocates the free exchange of weather information between government, academic and commercial users.
Bedford explained that his reason for the meeting was "to give the scientists an opportunity to discuss the usefulness of their products with people who have an intimate knowledge of the complex weather and oceanography of the world's oceans." He added, "Hopefully, our feedback will lead to improved and expanded product offerings available for future races and, ultimately, further enhance the safety of around the world racing."
Resident oceanographers, Dr Joaquin Trinanes and Dr Gustavo Goni, found the session mutually beneficial. They were pleased to hear that the data had been very accurate during the last leg, from Rio de Janeiro to Miami, especially along the coast of South America.
Nick White, Team News Corp, found the visit extremely valuable, and was one of the first sailors to begin browsing the online resource. illbruck onboard meteorologist Ian Moore, who was eager to ask questions throughout the visit, commented on the usefulness of the data provided by AOML and NOAA, saying "It is very important to have your finger on the pulse of currents and wind, as one little shift can make the difference between winning and losing, that is especially important on the next leg, as the Gulf Stream runs 600 miles of the 800 mile leg".
Leg six of the Volvo Ocean Race will be a short sprint from Miami, Florida to Baltimore, Annapolis, and starts on April 14th.