weather station

Weather station in Charleston Harbor

Out in Charleston Harbor the wind can roar up from nothing.

Sailors capsize, boaters get swamped. People just out for a day on the water find themselves battling swells pushed up by the gusts.

That's the value of a new, privately placed wind and weather station in the water near Shutes Folly: It can save lives.

Most people think the wind blows hardest on the beach at spots like the Folly Beach Pier. It doesn't. The wind tends to blow harder and gust stronger in Charleston Harbor where the mix of warmer land and cooler sea, drier and wetter air, stirs up a volatile atmosphere.

That can be dangerous to hundreds of people out on the water at any given time.

The wind difference "is something that can be very extreme," said Kevin Jewett, coach of the College of Charleston Sailing Team. "It can be almost calm at the beach and blowing 20 to 30 mph in the harbor."

More than 70 team members can launch into the harbor at a given time. Before the Shutes Folly station was installed, the closest station to the harbor in the water was the one off Fort Sumter — on the ocean side. Sailing team members used to take that number along with land readings and just make their best guess, said team member Mac Dickson, 22.

Team members worked with the private forecasting company WeatherFlow, buying and rounding up subscriptions to the company's premium service app to help pay for the station, which broadcasts live weather readings and stores data from the tower.

The station is among a number getting installed by WeatherFlow in regions needing the data, said Charleston-based WeatherFlow meteorologist Shea Gibson. The company regularly works with local, state and federal agencies to get approvals.  

"We maintain the 24 hour-per-day, 7-day-per-week operations, provide any necessary fixes and upgrades," he said.

Gibson, who also is a kiteboarder, has sought the station for a while. Prevailing winds off the land tend to hit deeper channels in the harbor "and get a roil to them," he said. "It creates instability." 

Oddly enough, the difference in winds tend to be more pronounced in cooler months and when fog banks are over the islands, he said.

The readings are valuable enough that the National Weather Service office in Charleston is looking to tap in, adding to an array of private sensors its forecasters check to supplement their own equipment, said meteorologist James Franklin.

Reach Bo Petersen Reporter at Facebook, @bopete on Twitter or 1-843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.