Key weather buoys off line


POSTED: Thursday, July 23, 2009

Three of Hawaii's seven weather buoys have been damaged since November, including two that are critical during the hurricane season, said Jim Weyman, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service's Honolulu Forecast Office.

“;Those buoys pick up information and tell us what's happening over the sea as a hurricane approaches,”; said Weyman, also director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center.

Two were south and southeast of the islands—the direction from which Hurricane Iniki swept up to hit Kauai in 1992.

The third was located to the north, but its mooring line was cut and it has drifted thousands of miles to the west, still transmitting data.

Several Pacific tsunami buoys also were set adrift with mooring lines broken by storms or commercial ships and no longer send data.

Damage often occurs when a fishing crew ties up to a buoy and pulls it away—slowly drawing the fish collected beneath it, then suddenly lets the buoy snap back and drops a net—a technique called “;slingshotting,”; Weyman said. Fishing nets and lines also can become entangled with the buoy mooring, he said.

A cruise is planned Aug. 11 to replace the three weather buoys, Weyman said.

In the meantime, “;we're not completely vulnerable, but we have less protection from hurricanes from the south,”; he said.

;[Preview] Weather Buoys Investigation

The Coast Guard and the FBI are investigating damage to some important buoys that ring the Hawaiian Islands, and they're asking for the public's help.

Watch ]


Information is still available from the four operating buoys, as well as ships and satellites, and, if necessary, hurricane-hunting aircraft, he said.

The 18-foot boat-shaped weather buoys provide information on wind speed and direction, wave height, pressure changes and other data about sea conditions that forecasters combine with information from satellites, radar and weather balloons to issue high-surf advisories and storm warnings.

Weyman joined yesterday with Lt. John Titchen, 14th Coast Guard District spokesman, and Pat Caldwell, oceanographer and surf forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Data Center, to emphasize the importance of the buoys for public safety and ocean recreation.

Caldwell said they provide valuable day-to-day forecast information for people surfing, paddling or boating between islands. Buoy data back to the early 1980s have been correlated with actual surf conditions as a guide to surf forecasters, he said.

The weather service and Coast Guard are asking boaters and fishermen to help protect the buoys by staying at least 20 yards away from them—500 yards for vessels trailing fishing gear.

Tying up on them or tampering with them is a federal offense subject to a $10,000 fine and 10 years in prison, Titchen pointed out. Anyone who sees people fishing around or boarding or tying up to a buoy is asked to call 535-3333 or, at sea, radio marine band channel 16.

“;The damage we see is consistent with people tying onto the buoys and using them to go after a catch. ... We really hope it's simply a matter that mariners don't know the damage they cause,”; Titchen said.

Seeing man-made damage to the buoys is frustrating, Titchen said, because repercussions include not only the loss of valuable data and equipment but time: It takes two to three weeks for a buoy tender with a crew of 60 to redeploy a buoy.

A deployment can cost “;tens of thousands of dollars,”; he said, “;but the costs come in diverting us from somewhere else where we may be needed and may be more valuable.”;