Weather Radios: Do I really need one?
Do you need a tetanus shot? We use these as preventive measures to keep more serious problems from occurring. The same is true for a weather radio. They are a compact, fairly low-tech way of gathering weather forecast information for the US and Canada. They are readily available in marine and electronic supply shops for less than $30 and run on easy to obtain batteries. I recently saw a new waterproof model for $15 that seemed like it would get the job done. Most will pick up from three to ten weather stations. A friend of mine drives a Subaru that has a weather radio built-in to its audio package. Never thought I'd have Outback envy.
Using your radio to your best advantage can take a little practice. You want to become familiar to when stations update their forecasts and at what time the part of the forecast you want is going to be broadcast...hearing the agricultural report won't help you predict wind speed and direction. They will broadcast current condition marine reports...the near shore forecast...on a regular basis, giving you information that can assist you with navigation.
The weather synopsis is going to you give you data on the big picture, so you have a clue as to what may be coming your way. If you are near the Canadian border you will pick up metric broadcasts...bear in mind that waves three to five could mean METERS. That puts a slightly different spin on plans now doesn't it? The British influence is always apparent and makes you feel like an international paddler...when they say the day will be "fair", they mean sunny skies, not "just okay".
Now, assuming you've picked up on all the lingo, got the buttons all sorted out and got the forecast...how does it affect you as a paddler? While most of this is common sense, its important to take that a few steps further. You may have received information on windspeed and direction that may have you rethinking where you'd planned to camp that night, perhaps even the direction you're choosing for your trip or maybe the whole itinerary. The campsite your in may have just become your home for another night or a place to leave ASAP depending on exposure. Just think, five minutes with your radio could alert you to packing the tarp and plenty of fleece and raingear for a day trip that starts out in "fair" weather. Learn to use your radio, be sure to pack the proper equipment to deal with the weather conditions and always err on the side of caution. You never know when your personal weather god is going to be having a bad hair day.
Michael Gray is currently writing from the southwestern part of the Caribbean where he wishes there were weather stations he could pick up on his radio. For more information on Uncommon Adventures in the Bay Islands, browse www.uncommonadv.com or just e-mail him on the beautiful island of Roatan: firstname.lastname@example.org