Coast Guard renews heavy weather warning system

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine – Coast Guard Sector Northern New England unveiled a modern version of the long-standing storm flag warning system for mariners, Monday.

Coast Guard Station South Portland is renewing the historic method of warning mariners of heavy weather, by using traditional storm flags and modern technology.

“The National Weather Service is glad to renew our partnership with the Coast Guard, as they re-introduce the storm flag system to small boat stations throughout New England,” said John Jensenius, warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS forecast office in Gray, Maine.

Coast Guard stations participated in the National Weather Service’s official storm flag warning system for over 100 years, until the system was discontinued in 1989.

“The storm flags represent the Coast Guard’s long and rich heritage of serving mariners in Maine” said Capt. Jim McPherson, the senior Coast Guard official responsible for all Northern New England activities and resident expert on the Coastal Warning Display program. “By employing technology, we are able to provide a very real and visual picture to mariners and the public at any time day or night, by making the storm warning system accessible via the internet using a web-camera; it’s a real balance of maritime tradition and practical modern utility.”

There are three reasons for reinstituting this storm flags and video camera display system, said McPherson:

  1. It’s a part of a strong maritime tradition and reinforces the Coast Guard’s role in saving lives and property at sea.
  2. It’s is another way to emphasize safety at sea through prevention. The storm flags lights and web camera is just another tool to combine with other practices like the National Weather Service and NOAA forecasts.
  3. The web camera is a way to leverage technology to keep weather information timely. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coast.

“Hoisting storm flags to alert the marine and coastal community of changing weather, adds another tool that can be used to encourage safety on the water,” said Jeff Liick, Portland Harbor Master. “Broadcasting the storm flags on the internet will make their presence easily accessible to the coastal community.”

The system embodies the Coast Guard’s nautical history ofsaving more than 1 million lives since 1790. The storm flag/webcam will hopefully be another tool to aid mariners and the residents of coastal homes.

“Portland is a busy port with a mix of commercial and recreational mariners,” said John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority. “The storm flags will serve as a visual indicator to all boaters transiting through our harbor to be aware of forecasted weather conditions.”

“We’re always seeking new and innovative methods of improving safety on the water. This project was an easy fit,” said McPherson.

During the Coast Guard’s two century service, they once warned mariners of navigation hazards with oil fired lamps.

Small Craft Advisory: To alert mariners to sustained (more than two hours) weather or sea conditions, either present or forecast, that might be hazardous to small boats. The threshold conditions for the Small Craft Advisory are usually 18 knots of wind (less than 18 knots in some dangerous waters) or hazardous wave conditions. At night One Red light will be above One White light.

Gale Warning: A warning of winds within the range of 39 – 54 mph (34 – 47 knots). Gale warnings may precede or accompany a hurricane watch. At night One White light will be over One Red light.

Storm Warning: A warning of winds within the range of 55 – 73 mph (48 – 63 knots). At night One Red light will be over One Red light.

Hurricane Warning
: A warning that indicates that hurricane winds of 74 mph (64 knots) and higher, or a combination of dangerously high water and rough seas, are expected to impact a specified coastal area. When a hurricane warning is announced, hurricane conditions are considered imminent and may begin immediately, or at least within the next 12 to 24 hours. When a warning is announced, it is of utmost importance that precautionary measures are taken for protection of life and property. At night One Red light will be above and below One White light.

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