Being in the middle of the ocean, it isn’t as easy as turning on the news to get your weather. Instead we use cadets as our weathermen. Rob Niemeyer has worked with the National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) since 2008 and has been a part of Sea Term on the Kennedy for the past eight years.
The Kennedy is part of NOAA’s Volunteer Observing Ship (VOS) program where ships voluntarily submit weather reports every six hours- at 0000, 6000, 1200, and 1800 UTC. UTC means Coordinated Universal Time. It is not a time zone, it is a time standard. The idea for Universal Time started back in 1884. Over the years, modification were made. It was not until 1961 when the name Coordinated Universal Time was officially adopted. Would you like an example of just how precise UTC is? In 1972, leap seconds were introduced so that the time could match the exact rotation of the Earth. When it comes to weather, every second counts! Having the reports come in at exactly the same time allows NOAA’s marine weather forecasts to be as accurate as possible.
Would you like to know what the UTC time is? Click on the link below and check out the real-time clock. What is the difference between the time at your school and UTC?
Each day, there are over 3,000 ships around the world that submit a report on the weather at their location on a standard form. Each weather report includes: air temperature, wind speed and direction, dew point temperature, barometric pressure, pressure change, cloud conditions, and wave height. When each participating ship sends in their reports, NOAA is able to have a more accurate understanding of the weather at sea – all around the world. The marine forecasts are sent out every ship, regardless of whether they are participating in the program or not. The goal is to keep every ship safe. The daily data sent in by ships is also archived so that it can be used by scientists who are tracking climate changes.
On the TS Kennedy, there are two cadets on Bridge watch that are responsible for all weather related issues and generating the report. The 1/C and 3/C team is responsible for gathering the information needed for the report and making sure that the information is accurate. Cadets use both the tools on the Bridge and personal observations to complete their report every three hours. That’s right – instead of generating these reports every six hours like most ships, the TS Kennedy creates them twice as often. Captain Campbell wants our cadets to have plenty of practice predicting the weather.
The numbers gathered by the cadets are then input into a system on the computers in the Navigation Lab. The system then transfers the information onto a floppy disc. The disc is inserted into the Global Marine Distress & Safety System (GMDSS) machine and sent to land.
Rob told me that he loves working on the Kennedy because he’s able to plant the seed to cadets of how important weather reporting is, especially for ships. The VOS program has grown internationally and now includes twenty-three countries.
Rob’s roll on the ship is to focus on the quality of weather reports given by the cadets. Watching the cadets report weather is interesting because I didn’t realize just how much weather was part of being a Marine Transportation Major. These cadets are learning skills that will prove critical as they navigate safely at sea.
With over 3,000 ships at sea reporting the weather every six hours, you might think that NOAA has more than enough information to make accurate predictions. The truth is, they would like to have many more participants. With ships always on the move, at times, NOAA is left with a wide stretch of ocean that they have no up-to-date information on. When Rob is not on the TS Kennedy, he is accurately recruiting shipping companies and cruise lines to be a part of VOS. Sure, participating in VOS means a little extra work for those on Bridge watch, but the accurate marine weather forecasts that are the result save countless lives each year.
Don’t miss the following video! Not only will you receive a comprehensive introduction to VOS, you will also get to see the TS Kennedy. Much of the video was filmed on the TS Kennedy during Sea Term 2015. You’ll see cadets on the Bridge and an interview with the ships, previous captain. Captain Bushy is interviewed in the office that now belongs to Captain Campbell. NOAA meteorologist, Rob Niemeyer is also seen throughout the video.
Click on this link to learn more about NOAA’s VOS program.
This link will take you to the current and past issues of NOAA’s Mariner’s Weather Log. There is something here for weather watchers of all ages.