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National Weather Service Marine Forecasts
COASTAL WARNING DISPLAY PROGRAM

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Beware of hypothermia during these cooler months. Did you know your body can cool 25 times faster in water than in air? That water does not need to be very cold to endanger you?

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Did you know that the height of some individual waves may be twice the height of the forecast seas? And may present an even greater danger near shore?


NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE RETIRES ITS
COASTAL WARNING DISPLAY PROGRAM

As of February 15, 1989, the National Weather Service retired its Coastal Warning Display network nationwide.

For over 100 years, display stations were established at yacht clubs, marinas, and Coast Guard stations to hoist flags, pennants and colored lights to warn mariners of storms at sea. The display stations were individually notified by the National Weather Service to raise the signals and again to lower them when the hazards passed. The National Weather Service paid for the visual signals; however, the display stations were operated by other agencies or volunteers.  Although the Coastal Warning Display program has been formally discontinued, U.S. Coast Guard and other stations may continue to display warning signals without the direct participation of the National Weather Service.

News - Beginning June 1, 2007, U.S. Coast Guard formally re-established a Coastal Warning Display program at selected small boat stations which will hoist display flags to warn of small craft advisories, gale warnings, storm warnings and hurricane warnings.

The Coastal Warning Display program was de-emphasized in favor of frequently updated telephone recordings and NOAA Weather Radio. The latter covers the coastal areas of continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Mariana Islands with continuous weather broadcasts. The major shortcomings of the Coastal Warning Display program were that the displays reached only the small portion of the marine public within sight of them; it cannot convey specific information on movement, intensity, and duration; and the time required to notify the sites by individual telephone calls takes the forecaster away from critical tasks associated with the weather. Further, when users perceive them to be a full substitute for NOAA Weather Radio, other radio broadcasts, and the telephone recordings, they are actually being a disservice.
 
 

Coastal Warning Display Signals

DAYTIME SIGNALS

SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY 
SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY 
GALE  WARNING 
gale warning
  STORM WARNING 
  STORM WARNING 
HURRICANE WARNING 
HURRICANE WARNING 
 

NIGHT (LIGHT) SIGNALS

SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY 
SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY
GALE WARNING 
GALE WARNING
STORM WARNING 
STORM WARNING
HURRICANE WARNING 
HURRICANE WARNING 
 

Explanation of Warnings

 

SMALL CRAFT ADVISORY: An advisory issued by coastal and Great Lakes Weather Forecast Offices (WFO) for areas included in the Coastal Waters Forecast or Nearshore Marine Forecast (NSH) products. Thresholds governing the issuance of small craft advisories are specific to geographic areas. A Small Craft Advisory may also be issued when sea or lake ice exists that could be hazardous to small boats. There is no precise definition of a small craft. Any vessel that may be adversely affected by Small Craft Advisory criteria should be considered a small craft. Other considerations include the experience of the vessel operator, and the type, overall size, and sea worthiness of the vessel. There is no legal definition of "small craft". The Small Craft Advisory is an advisory in Coastal Waters and Nearshore forecasts for sustained winds, frequent gusts, or sea/wave conditions, exceeding defined thresholds specific to geographic areas. A Small Craft Advisory may also be issued when sea or lake ice exists that could be hazardous to small boats.

Eastern (ME..SC, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario) - Sustained winds or frequent gusts ranging between 25 and 33 knots (except 20 to 25 knots, lower threshold area dependent, to 33 knots for harbors, bays, etc.) and/or seas or waves 5 to 7 feet and greater, area dependent.

Central (MN..OH) - Sustained winds or frequent gusts (on the Great Lakes) between 22 and 33 knots inclusive, and/or seas or waves greater than 4 feet.

Southern (GA..TX and Caribbean) - Sustained winds of 20 to 33 knots, and/or forecast seas 7 feet or greater that are expected for more than 2 hours.

Western (WA..CA) - Sustained winds of 21 to 33 knots, potentially in combination with wave heights exceeding 10 feet (or wave steepness values exceeding local thresholds).

Alaska (AK) - Sustained winds or frequent gusts of 23 to 33 knots. A small craft advisory for rough seas may be issued for sea/wave conditions deemed locally significant, based on user needs, and should be no lower than 8 feet.

Hawaii (HI), Samoa - Sustained winds 25 knots or greater and seas 10 feet or greater.

Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands - Sustained winds 22 to 33 knots and/or combined seas of 10 feet or more.

“Frequent gusts”are typically long duration conditions (greater than 2 hours).

For a list of NWS Weather Offices by Region, refer to the following website: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/organization.php

GALE WARNING: To indicate winds within the range 34 to 47 knots are forecast for the area.

STORM WARNING: To indicate winds 48 knots and above, no matter how high the speed, are forecast for the area. However, if the winds are associated with a tropical cyclone (hurricane), the STORM WARNING indicates that winds within the range 48-63 knots are forecast.

HURRICANE WARNING: An announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are expected somewhere within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane warning is issued 36 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

NOTE: A "HURRICANE WATCH" is an announcement that hurricane conditions (sustained winds of 74 mph or higher) are possible within the specified coastal area. Because hurricane preparedness activities become difficult once winds reach tropical storm force, the hurricane watch is issued 48 hours in advance of the anticipated onset of tropical-storm-force winds.

NOTE: A SPECIAL MARINE WARNING is issued whenever a severe local storm or strong wind of brief duration is imminent and is not covered by existing warnings or advisories. No visual displays will be used in connection with the Special Marine Warning Bulletin; boaters will be able to receive these special warnings by keeping tuned to a NOAA Weather Radio station or to Coast Guard and commercial radio stations that transmit marine weather information.



National Weather Service
Office of Climate, Weather, and Water Services
Marine and Coastal Weather Services Branch (W/OS21)
Last modified: Oct 19, 2012
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