— July 2003
By Ben Ellison
Live Weather at Last
|Part 2: If all this sounds a bit half-baked, well that’s the nature of a rapidly emerging technology.|
AtSea automatically downloads Nexrad animations and much more. WSI, which is a sister company to the Weather Channel and a major purveyor of meteorological data and analysis, has included a fairly full suite of other relevant information: buoy reports, text forecasts, wind graphics, and even sea-surface temperature maps for fishermen. Its delivery system is powerful, constantly downloading data via satellite into a commodious interface box, so it’s always there when you want it. In fact, since the satellite communication is one-way, AtSea downloads info for the whole United States. So you could be watching what’s happening around you in South Florida one moment (see photo on page 42) and the next be calling a buddy in Des Moines to tell him he’s about to get poured on!
Besides its partnership with Northstar, WSI is working on relationships with other plotter and PC-charting developers and will also release its own weather-viewing software. AtSea hardware costs $2,000, and subscriptions start at $300 for a six-month season.
Weather Works, a spinoff of another serious data company called Baron Services, announced a product in Miami that is similar in scope to WSI’s but delivers weather information via unused bandwidth of the XM satellite radio system. Radio-at-Sea is putting together the hardware and will be marketing it along with WxWorx PC software for around $1,000 with service at $50 per month. Weather Works also recently issued a short but intriguing announcement naming Garmin as a partner that will deliver its graphical weather “in conjunction with XM’s 101-channel satellite radio service on marine products currently under development.” I called Garmin and asked if we’re going to be able to watch Nexrad and listen to tunes on a future plotter, but only got a laugh and a “no comment.”
Also in Miami was a new company called WeatherGlobe Technologies, whose WeatherPort PC program takes a more rudimentary and less expensive approach to Nexrad. You need some sort of Internet connection—typically a cellular data link to your laptop—then you select a chart of your area, and the program will fetch the needed Nexrad data to run an animation over just that chart area from WeatherGlobe’s server. I tried a demo and found it worked pretty well. Since then the company partnered with Fugawi, which will add the overlay function to its charting program (see “Fugawi Marine ENC,” page 47) while WeatherGlobe drops its own software and concentrates on adding data beyond Nexrad. Subscriptions will remain at $20 to $40 per month, depending on contract length.
Finally, WeatherData introduced StormHawk, which also fetches information via cellular, but has ambitiously intended to put combined weather and detailed mapping for land and sea onto the PocketPC handheld PDA platform. The system will cost about $550 for software plus a $10-per-month subscription fee, but the company recently delayed full introduction until the end of the year.
If all this sounds a bit half-baked, well that’s the nature of a rapidly emerging technology. None of these particular products has completely jelled, and no doubt we’ll see even more entrants, strategies, features, dropped ship dates, etc. in the coming years. Plus there are lots more to the core Nexrad features offered than I’ve had room to discuss. For instance, many of these weather outfits do a lot of quick post-processing of NOAA’s raw output. WeatherData claims a unique ability to project storm and even lightning as far out as 30 minutes with high accuracy. Baron’s boasts of “patented storm-cell identification and tracking capability as seen on TV.” And Nexrad itself has significant additional capabilities that have yet to reach any consumer weather watchers, such as imaging system moisture in 3-D and mapping wind speeds (hence its alternate “National Doppler Radar” title). In other words, once the display and data communications are established, the possibilities for weather imagery you might have onboard at your fingertips are open-ended. Nothing is for sure at this point, except that the age of marine live weather products is about to begin.
WeatherData Phone: (800) 999-2075. www.storm-hawk.com.
WeatherGlobe Phone: (800) 282-8953 or (418) 246-9942. www.wxport.com.
Weather Works Phone: (800) 556-3911. www.wxworx.com.
WSI Phone: (978) 670-5000. www.wsi.com.
This article originally appeared in the June 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.