Isle surf forecasts
get back online

Pat Caldwell’s popular service returns
Friday on a redone Web site

By Helen Altonn

Hundreds of e-mails, letters and calls protesting the Oct. 30 shutdown of meteorologist Pat Caldwell's online surf forecasts resulted in quick action to establish a new Web page.

The first revamped surf report will be issued at 2 p.m. Friday in a collaboration between the National Weather Service and National Coastal Data Development Center.

Caldwell, regional liaison for the NCDDC, will work at the Honolulu Forecast Office for several weeks while launching the Web site. Three reports will be presented daily Monday through Friday, an abbreviated one at 8 a.m. and more complete reports at 2 and 6 p.m. It eventually will be expanded to weekends and include the neighbor islands.

Whether the "improved, standardized Surf Zone Forecast" will satisfy the many fans of Caldwell's previous surf reports on the NCDDC Web site remains to be seen.

"I'm glad to hear it's coming online because it is really missed," said surfer Jeffrey Overton. But he said he would have to see it before commenting on it further.

He said Caldwell's earlier surf reports were invaluable. "His guidance on North Shore surf conditions most definitely helped to save my life," Overton said, explaining he would stay home if the surf was too big.

With the new Web site, he said, "They have to work it out so it's done in simple, understandable format. I'm sure if Pat is involved and the North Shore lifeguards are involved in the formation of it, I think it'll come out fine."

Surfers at a news conference on the new Web page yesterday at the Honolulu Forecast Office seemed confused by the technical format. A general forecast will be offered but nothing specific for a particular beach.

Information will be presented on the open-ocean swell, the dominant direction, the wave period from crest to crest in seconds and the shoaling factor. Viewers will have to do some math to figure out the height of the breakers.

"If someone wants to use different values or scales, the data is there," said Jim Weyman, meteorologist-in-charge, Honolulu Forecast Office.

What surfers will not find will be local or traditional surf values measuring the surf height from the back of the wave. Forecasters and ocean specialists say those heights underestimate the waves' height and threaten public safety.

Surf is the leading weather-related killer in Hawaii, Weyman noted, stressing that public safety is the major mission of the NOAA agencies. He said the open-ocean swell height, measured from trough to crest, "is approximately the local surfer scale previously used by Pat for the North Shore."

But the weather service has been trying since April 2001 to standardize observations and high-surf forecasts based on the face, or front, of waves as the "true height."

Caldwell had tables of both surf values on his Web site. The weather service felt that was conflicting and confusing and asked NCDDC, an affiliate in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to remove it.

After a barrage of complaints from surfers, photographers, ocean safety, fire, police, diving, fishing, commercial and tourist interests and others who used the site, the NOAA agencies worked out a new Web page with surf forecasts. University of Hawaii and water safety officials met with them, and a technical advisory committee was formed.

"We listened," said Weyman, explaining the group tried to accommodate requests of all interests as much as possible. He said Caldwell's discussions of ocean and weather conditions were such a big hit on his earlier site that they will be continued.

Caldwell, a surfer and marine meteorologist who has been making surf forecasts for 25 years, said he was flattered by the overwhelming response to the cancellation of his surf forecasts last week.

He said the new Web site will use the best scientific data to present an objective forecast and make it as educational as possible. Reports from coastal users and a buoy three miles off Waimea are critical to providing and verifying information, he said.

Surfers who rely on wave data from the North Shore buoy asked why there is not one on the South Shore. UH meteorology Chairman Tom Schroeder, head of the Joint Institute of Marine and Atmospheric Research, said he intends to do something about that.

The new site is at

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