If You Don't Trust the NWS You Sure Can't Trust Applied Weather Technology - and The Puzzle of El Faro Capt Davidson

BVS (AWT) is not forecasting the hurricane track. They are using NHC forecast tracks. If the captain wanted to see the Joaquin forecast that was on the 23:02 BVS file he could have looked at the NHC Advisory #12. which was received on the bridge at about 30/1700 hrs.

At 2300 he wanted to see the latest forecast he could have looked at Advisory #13

This is the 0800 LT forecast from Advisory #13

FORECAST VALID 01/1200Z 23.5N 73.8W

The actual position of Joaquin at 0800 LT was: 23.2 N 73.7 W
El Faro went down at 23.5 N 74.0 W

The BVS file with the same position and forecast in Advisory #13 which was rcvd by SAT-C at 2300 was sent to the ship by AWT at 01/0502.

From the CG report:

At the times the BVS weather files were emailed to El Faro, the storm location and forecast
track in the BVS weather files were not current with the information then available from the
National Hurricane Center or through Inmarsat-C SafetyNET. Rather, they were consistent with
the data issued in the tropical cyclone forecast/advisory about 6 hours earlier (6-hour latency).

… I know, but unfortunately, the captain thought differently.

I do not speculate about why he did not do what was obvious.
I just say that he had possibilities to see on his BVS files that their forecasts had big problems…

Why he did download his Bible-like BVS file from 23:02 only after the mates’ calls for adapted instructions, after the last course change into hell, and after when he probably got ejected from his shaken bed… only God could tell!

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This is another issue with using the computer. It doesn’t convey the uncertainty in the forecast.

Using the NHC text the error is explicitly stated: This is from Joaquin Advisory #11


The text also has this:


Using the computer graphic gives an illusion of precision.

As usual, you write a thoughtful post. This time with data.

Just to be brief, I think it is a good idea for the vetting agencies to be independent. They might be full of conscientious people but the setup invites abuse. Would you want to play in a game where the home team paid the referees? Look what happened when Moody’s and Standard and Poor competed in a system with similar incentives.

And… to give Devanney some credit, his book was widely read in the industry. Perhaps some of the decrease in spills can be attributed to awareness of issues he brought to everyone’s attention.

I remain a proponent of twin screws on commercial vessels. Regards.

Thanks, and I am also a proponent of twin screws which are experiencing a certain amount of appeal, though I believe it is related to improved standards and other influences. Consider the Polar Tankers with split engine rooms. Consider the Q Max and Q Flez LNG carriers with their two slow speed engines and twin screws. Done (so I was led to believe) for redundancy, maintenance and also to improve draft by spreading the weight. The market will place value and make changes accordingly due to the influence of increased oversight, the rigors of trade and insurance demands which grow increasingly intolerant to disruption and so on. They’ve always been somewhat mandatory in towing and OSVs - for reliability more than regulation.

There are areas and markets where these kind of incremental upgrades occur due to increased regulation and market demands (like above large LNG tankers) and there are those areas and markets where the standards do degrade, mostly to improve the access to the markets by lower threshold entry (coach airline seats). The commodity makes the difference. It may have looked like it did to the author of TT in 2006, but especially with those commodities, there are a lot of factors to consider where a limited highly regulated market is concerned. I’m still waiting for airline seats to respond the same, but that is of course subject to different forces and it looks like I’ll be disappointed for some time to come.

A post was split to a new topic: Weather Forecasts at Sea

The more I learn about this the less inexplicably it seems.

A key element was that large forecast errors meant that each forecast update had big changes.

One of the reasons for the confusion aboard the El Faro as to the source of the weather data is the coincidence of the six hour intervals between weather forecast updates and the six hour lag between NHC and the AWT update for the BVS software.

Every six hours the ship will receive a NHC update based on current data and at about the same time a BVS update that is based on data that is six hour old.

For example the Joaquin Forecast/Advisory # 10 issued 0900 UTC WED SEP 30 2015 was received on board the ship 30 Sep at about 0500 hrs ship’s time. The BVS update received at about the same time would be based on advisory #9

On the morning of the 30th the C/M and captain reviewing the NHC forecast the C/M can be heard on the VDR the recording saying; “I’m anxious to see the newest BVS report”.

That’s where the misunderstanding becomes apparent because the BVS report that they expected soon should be based on the NHC Forecast/Advisory # 9 which the ship had already received six hours earlier.

But there was also a second problem. Because of a clerical error the BVS forecast that was downloaded that morning was not based on #9 but was based on Advisory #8.

So using the BVS software that morning the C/M and Capt were looking at an 18 hour old forecast but did not realize it.

Least that seems unlikely here is the relevant section from the NTSB report:

At 0608, an emailed BVS weather file was downloaded on the captain’s computer. 15 (It had been available at 0504.) The data in the BVS file—storm’s current position and forecast track—were consistent with those in the National Hurricane Center advisory (No. 8) issued at 1651 the day before (when the hurricane center also announced that Joaquin could become a hurricane the next day [September 30]).

And a footnote:

Because of an updating problem with the BVS system, the weather file received at 0504 duplicated the file emailed to the ship 6 hours earlier.

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This is from the CG MBI hearing transcripts:

Mr. Jerry Hale and Mr. Richard Brown with AWT.

** Note for the record: Mr. Richard Brown will be labeled as WIT 1. Mr. Jerry Hale will be labeled WIT 2: *

LT Comerford:
Does AWT have any meteorologists performing forecasting functions?

WIT 1:
It’s truly applied weather We’re basically are taking the governmental forecast and then applying it to the ships. So we don’t really do specific forecasting.

LT Comerford:
In general how are these products generated? In other words, does AWT run its own models for specifically hurricane forecasting in house?

WIT 1:
The only model that we’re running in house is the wave model. And so what we’re doing on there is we actually take the incepts 16 day GFS model and we superimpose the hurricane center’s forecast within it. So we modify the pressure and the winds and then we run our wave model to get the waves more accurate around the cyclones

GFS is the Global Forecast System run by the NWS

The “hurricane center” is NHC, the National Hurricane Center, a division of the NWS

LT Comerford: What times, you said already 6 hours, is that a regular schedule and what times are those?
WIT 1:
Yeah, well the Government runs the model at basically at 06, 12 and 18. And then you know it takes a few hours for the models to generate the forecast. And then once we get access to it then we download the data and then we start processing. We also enhance it with – we add in fronts into the data.

LT Comerford:
And for clarification in the weather forecast for BVS where does the – where’s the source of the tropical cyclone current position forecast track and intensity of information coming from?
WIT 1:
The – it’s coming from the Hurricane Center. I mean we’re taking that data, we’re putting it into our stuff. But it’s the forecast from the Hurricane Center.

LT Comerford:
For the United States area specifically the Atlantic what specific data are you polling for your applied weather? You mentioned GFS, National ----
WIT 1:
Yeah we use the GFS model from the Government and then we also use the Hurricane Center.

LT Comerford:
Are there any others?
WIT 1:

According to AWT’s brochure for BVS version 7, BVS ―is a graphical marine voyage
optimization system that provides on-board and around-the-clock weather-routing
information…Using [an] on-board computer, BVS 7 provides the most recent weather and ocean data to the ship by broadband or email communications in a highly compressed format…This data is then used to generate color-enhanced maps and graphics that allow the ship’s captain to easily view and interpret potential problem areas in advance.‖

This is true but a little misleading. It is the most recent weather and ocean data in that particular format, but what they leave out is the exact same data is available sooner in another format.

Since the beginning I have not understood why Tote paid a premium for old repackaged weather information when more up to date information was available at no cost other than federal taxes already paid.

More user friendly formatting?

The software helps solve a problem that would otherwise be far to tedious and time consuming to do by hand.

The user enters the LOA, draft, displacement, planned RPM and a few other tweaks the program computes propeller slip given the forecast conditions at points along the track.

So for example if there is 0.3 kts of current at 030 degrees relative and a 14 sec swell from 315 degrees and 20 kts of wind from dead ahead and a 3 meter sea it computes your slip will be say 7%. The program does this for many multiple points along the route.

The rpm for each leg is entered and the ships speed of advance is computed for each point along the track and for the entire voyage. I watch the speed like a hawk and the program simulation is very often within a couple tenths of a knot from actual speed.

The user can compare routes or find shortest route, shortest time, least fuel etc in just seconds. When an update comes in the entire voyage is updated.

On the BVS there was an option “hurricane updates” which would have been a 1 hour delay from NHC instead of six but it wasn’t checked.

Here is a screen shot:


The user can enter wind speed or sea height limits from selected relative directions and the software fill find a route, least time or least fuel etc.

Here is a video showing very similar software for sailing.

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The first and last time I used routing software was in its infancy when you had to be a computer nerd to download the grib files and match them to the parameters one at a time with separate commands. Working through celestial tables with pencil and paper is fun in comparison. You have it easy. :smirk:

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This is and was a significant problem that is totally underestimated by most.
A pretty display can be very powerful in convincing a mid that it is correct.
In this case, I would think that any experienced captain would know that if the winds are from the NE, the Low center or hurricane in this case must be southeast of them.

As K-C said before, the winds were opposite of what they should have been experiencing, but in spite of that, they continued to believe the pretty graphics.

Even years after satellite pictures (GEOS) became routinely available in the '80s, I would see a weather forecaster ignore the position on the picture because he [referred the pretty drawing on the map.


“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required,”

Expectations have changed. The bar has been raised. Everything has tightened up Not much tolerance for inaccurate ETAs now. Fewer excuses for delays or cargo damage.

I think most captains now spend more time looking at weather then before because the returns on effort is better. WIth the old faxes and text weather it didn’t take long before you were mostly wasting your time. We just accepted a less complete picture because that’s just the way it was.

Mariners used to compensate by using larger margins. Or just putting up with bad weather.

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The captain is always responsible!
However, from what I was reading in the VDR transcript, I think that, for these weather issues, the captain needed (and had to accept) a useful ‘sparring partner’.

The CM had some coherent ideas and then, after raised eyebrows, returned rapidly to play the dog of the ‘His Master’s Voice’ label.
If this was the master’s intention, or just fortuity, only He knows. As usual, He stays silent.

A problem is how to separate ‘normal’ weather from ‘special’ weather like here.
With ‘normal’ weather, a decision can be made this or that way, for all sorts of reasons.
With ‘special’ weather, like in the vicinity of a hurricane’s path, there may be only one good decision, while the others lead to further choices between not good and bad… until between very bad and hell.

I do not know anything about aircraft pilots, but I read that they learn how to communicate inside the cockpit during similar events.

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Five years ago I would have said yes, of course, but now I’m not so sure.

How many could answer it as a test question? It’s got to be less than 100%. No matter what the percent that could answer correctly in a quiet room it would be more difficult to answer in a wheelhouse at night in heavy weather with the stress and confusion.

But in this case just knowing the answer would not enough because it never came up in the form of a question. It would have to be something they just knew without thinking because they believed they already knew the answer.

In a world of weather charts and computer graphics the percent of mariners that use simple rules like Buys Ballot’s law has got to be decreasing.

Sadly, the Maritime industry just reflects our society.
My last career was in education, as a high school science teacher and then a principal.

Too many kids get to high school without a basic understanding of the concepts.

The most common mistake on tests is using the incorrect function on the calculator.

Thus when asked 2x30 =?

Some kids will respond with some number in the billions because they factored 2 thirty times, as in 2 to the 30th power.

These mistakes are common.

I wouldn’t necessarily put this on the crew, specifically the deck officers. You don’t know what you don’t know. The company is taking a risk if they don’t require deck officer training in advanced weather principles, heavy weather avoidance and in the use of the weather program.

One of the findings was the company’s failure to properly identify risks. During the hearing the other Tote captain said the only training he’d had was the minimum required classes and what was on the exams.

Thanks. I understand now but BVS still sucks.