Fate of Ferry Weather service touches nerve with boaters

A screen shot from the Ferry Weather web site showing wind speeds in Puget Sound.  - Courtesy WSF
A screen shot from the Ferry Weather web site showing wind speeds in Puget Sound.
— image credit: Courtesy WSF

How do you get real-time weather information from the middle of Puget Sound?

Try checking in with a weather station onboard a Washington State ferry.

Unbeknownst to most riders, five Washington State Ferries carry weather modules, which radio transmit real-time weather conditions as ferries crisscross the Sound. Data from the modules is uploaded to a "Ferry Weather website operated by the University of Washington.

But the decade-old Ferry Weather service is scheduled to terminate on June 30.

MeteorComm, the company WSF has contracted to provide the service, is leaving the business at the end of this month.

News of the fate of Ferry Weather has struck a nerve with boaters, who often rely on the service to know how the wind is blowing on the Sound before leaving port. This month they have flooded in the e-mail inbox of WSF Chief David Moseley, and several attended a community meeting hosted by WSF on Bainbridge Tuesday evening to support the service.

Bob Schoonmaker, owner of the Chandlery, a Bainbridge boating supply and rental shop, told Moseley he, and many other sailors, depend on Ferry Weather.

"There are a lot of folks who use this site that you haven't heard from," Schoonmaker said. "They come into my shop and I look it up for them so I can send them out with the right sails and things they need. So there's also a safety issue."

Moseley said WSF staff is looking for ways to keeping Ferry Weather online. The agency would need to find a new partner to fill the role of MeteorComm. WSF staff are talking with UW about ways to keep the wireless system afloat, WSF spokesperson Joy Goldenberg said.

There are also costs to be factored in for the cash-strapped agency. WSF has been paying MeteorComm a fee for the service and weather modules would have to be replaced at a cost of roughly $2,000 a piece. While WSF has utilized the weather data in the past, "at this point it's really just a public service," Goldenberg said.

But Moseley said demand for the service has been heard "loud and clear."

"It's an issue we're working on," Moseley said. "We hope to find a solution and I believe a solution is out there."

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