Jeremy Davis is one of the head forecasters at Weather Routing Inc. (WRI), based in Glens Falls, New York, where he’s worked for the past 17 years. We recently caught up with Davis to learn more about his passion for weather, climate change and more.
How would you describe your job to a non-sailor?
We have a unique role as meteorologists—our goals are to get our clients from port A to port B as safely and quickly as possible, and to minimize risk. Is there going to be rough weather? Can we avoid potentially damaging situations? Can you delay, can you go sooner, can you go faster, go slower, can you pull in? That’s our real strategy.
Can you explain the difference between weather forecasting and weather routing?
Weather forecasting would be predicting for a certain place or region and what the specific weather conditions will be over a certain period of time. Typically, the first five days of a forecast are the most accurate. Five to 10 days is more of an “outlook.” Anything beyond 10 days is just a very general situation. There are some companies that have tried to push the envelope with 45-day forecasts, which is just impossible. Don’t believe it. It’s not true. It’s just completely made up.
Weather routing is really strategizing the weather situation and how it applies to each client, and what is the best solution for them. It’s looking at all the possibilities. Does the vessel have a weather window, like they can leave anytime between Saturday and Tuesday? What’s the best day? Do they have flexibility in speed? Can they go faster, slower, could they drift, could they speed up? Those are things to consider. Should they stop at a port to allow a weather system to move off? Should they stay close to the coast or go offshore? In some cases, there are times where there is no good solution. Weather patterns don’t always cooperate. Some situations are impossible. There could be systems that stall offshore. There could be vessels that have such low constraints that the weather pattern will not let them go for weeks. Sometimes part of the job is just being blunt and advising that there is no valid option to go.
You interned at Mt. Washington, New Hampshire, “home of the world’s worst weather.” What was that like?
It’s kind of a “mecca” for meteorologists to at least go visit at some point, where the highest wind gust has been recorded. It’s a real place to experience the awe of Mother Nature. It’s also at the junction of several different storm tracks, between nor’easters coming up the coast, strong fronts coming in from the west or the northwest, and it’s where the jet stream often is directly overhead, steering systems over it.
Most people have never experienced what hurricane force winds are like on land. Sustained 75 mph winds are a very rare thing to experience. Even sustained winds at 50 mph. When I was up there, to go outside in 75, 80mph winds, just trying to stand up and not feel like you’re going to get blown off into the sky was really an eye opener. Once you experience something like that, you can only imagine what it’s like to be a category three hurricane with 115-120 mph winds.
Is it difficult, emotionally, when you have a significant weather event and you know you have clients out there?
We’ve had vessels that had no choice but to ride out a situation. It does get tough because a lot of these clients have been with us for years in some cases. Of course, we want them safe. We’ve worked with them, we know them, sometimes on a personal level. We understand what the captains and masters are going through. There’s a lot on their minds. They have the safety of themselves, their crew and the vessel. There are time constraints, there are time limits. They have to get the vessel out of a certain area. You have to take the emotion out of it in terms of giving advice and being firm in recommendations and try not to get too caught up.You do take some of that home with you. Of course, you’re worried about your clients and their safety if there’s going to be very bad situation. But then there are a lot of good feelings too when you do help somebody out substantially. There is a lot of reward in that because you know you’ve done a good job and you’ve saved somebody from a potentially devastating situation because of the work that you did.
You do take some of that home with you. Of course, you’re worried about your clients and their safety if there’s going to be very bad situation. But then there are a lot of good feelings too when you do help somebody out substantially. There is a lot of reward in that because you know you’ve done a good job and you’ve saved somebody from a potentially devastating situation because of the work that you did.
How conflicted are you, personally, as a weather geek in rooting for weird weather versus managing your business and clients, who are obviously are rooting for the opposite?
As scientists and meteorologists, these storms are certainly fascinating. If they’re out of season or they’re affecting places that you don’t usually expect, it’s amazing. “Extreme curiosity” is probably a better way to describe it than “excitement.”
Look at Hurricane Alex, for example [the rare January hurricane that formed in the Atlantic in 2016]. We’re thinking, this is incredible. It’s January. Look at how well organized it is. This isn’t normal. But we also know our clients could potentially be directly affected by this, and there are lives on the line. There’s money on the line. There’s time on the line. You have to put personal interest and curiosity aside and really focus on, “Okay, it’s an amazing storm, but we have a client here. We’ve got to get them out of this situation.” That’s when it switches right over, and it’s much more plain, matter of fact.
I can’t have a conversation with a meteorologist without bringing up climate change. Does WRI have an “official” stance on that?
The one distinction that we make is that we’re all meteorologists and not climatologists. It’s a different branch of the science. Certainly what we’ve seen here is that this stuff is real. It’s not hype. It’s not made up. It’s not some conspiracy. It’s real. You have thousands of climate scientists working across the world in different agencies all coming to the same conclusion. There’s no conspiracy.
There are already effects being seen with some South Pacific islands that might go under completely. You have cases where flooding with some of the high tides, even in the Miami area, are starting to get into neighborhoods that they have never been before. We’re seeing some very strange systems out of season. We’re seeing wild fluctuations back and forth between warm and cold temperatures, such as the warmest winter ever, which followed the coldest winter ever.
It’s not good. These signs are real, trackable. They’re visual. There’s real evidence that things are happening out there.
What’s your favorite part of the job?
First off, I get paid to do what I love. It’s a rare thing to find a career that doesn’t feel like work and that allows you to pursue your passion, and then to be able to use that passion to help other people. I think that’s the best part, using the skills, communicating the information to the clients and then having a successful result. That’s the most rewarding part of the job for sure, definitely.
You can hear the full, 90-minute conversation with Andy Schell and Jeremy Davis by subscribing to the On the Wind sailing podcast, free on iTunes or streaming at 59-north.com/podcast
Photos courtesy of WRI