By Ben Ellison
Two Time Two
|Part 2: Talk about real-time weather!|
In other words, a passel of companies is betting that you’re going to want a live weather service once you’ve seen it, though hardly anyone outside those companies has yet to see how the service actually looks when fully integrated into a plotter, radar, etc. The energy is such that even the finished, shipping PC programs I tried are still very much in development. When I needled WSI marine product manager Reed Wilbur about the lack of high/low/front forecast graphics and a few other features I liked in XM WX, he fired back a screenshot showing how almost all were coming to the next version of TWCM. Likewise, I learned from WxWorx general manager Mick Gosgin that his software’s inability to scale up to my monitor was already fixed in the aviation version, and numerous other desired improvements were in the works. These guys are energized. They’ve had the weather data and expertise for a while; now they’ve got a fast pipeline to the mobile users who will really appreciate it, not to mention powerful ways to present them with it. And—a plus for them and us, I think—they’ve got each other to compete with.
So, given that the products are rapidly moving targets, what did I see of note? First and foremost, each offers terrific Nexrad radar imagery, resolved to a couple of miles and updated every few minutes. Most anyone in a medium-speed boat could use either service to identify and dodge most severe thunderstorm cells, even if they’re embedded in a big front. WX XM’s SCIT (Storm Cell Identification and Tracking) markers are more informative than TWCM’s StormTracks, but both are important advancements on the Nexrad you might be familiar with from the Internet. WX XM also shows lightning strikes, very hard-to-find information—especially for the whole country out to about 300 miles offshore and even color-coded for their age over the last 15 minutes. Talk about real-time weather!
Both services can also show current conditions at hundreds of airports and buoys. At the moment TWCM has more detail, offers useful station trend histories, and has the added intelligence of some 300 of its own weather buoys. Both PC viewing programs let me easily mix this information, zooming into my area to see exactly what was going on and zooming out to see what was coming my way. I found that combining Nexrad, cell tracking, wind barbs, and front graphics produced a particularly informative real-time image, which I could then turn into a forecast by advancing the front graphics. No doubt engineers at Garmin and Raymarine and who knows where else are working right now to put this same flexible imagery into their displays.
Of course there’s much more to these services. Both offer the sea-surface temperature maps that fishermen love to ponder, call out various types of weather alerts, and can show at least short-term, computer-modeled wind and sea predictions as well as hurricane warning tracks. TWCM also has all the coastal and offshore marine forecasts in text, which I found particularly useful for planning a few days out. Obviously the services have focused at first on their unique ability to deliver live data, but boaters are often thinking in much longer time frames than pilots or emergency personnel on tornado watches. Wilbur says that TWCM will be extending wind and other predictions to five days and possibly adding custom Weather Channel boating forecasts for some popular areas. Gosgin was less specific but, like Wilbur, assured me that there are lots more weather goodies in the shop and lots more capacity in the pipeline.
So apparently the impressive services I looked at were just version 1.0 and—truth be known—I was still only able to sketch their capabilities and subtle differences in this space. I highly recommend checking out the XM WX and TWCM Web sites, where you’ll find much more information, including online demonstrations. The live marine weather competition has begun.
The Weather Channel Marine Phone: (888) 442-8732. www.weather.com/marine.
XM WX Satellite Weather Phone: (800) 985-9200. www.xmwxweather.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.