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New marine forecast zones to provide more accurate weather information for Alaska’s mariners

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Brian Venua
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KDLG
A fishing boat moves through stormy weather in Bristol Bay.

The National Weather Service announced it’s changing its marine forecast zones to provide more accurate weather information to the fishermen and boaters who use it.

The changes are slated to go into effect next Wednesday, March 8 and follow feedback from mariners calling for more accurate forecasts closer to shorelines, says Aviva Braun, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Anchorage office.

“Basically, what we were hearing over the years as an entire Alaska Region, was that our forecasts were not accurate for the nearshore environment — that small boats, subsistence, fishermen, mariners that kept close to the coastline, were not seeing the big waves and strong winds that were portrayed and forecasted," she said.

As it stands, there’s one marine forecast for coastal zones out to 100 nautical miles.

The new marine weather forecast aims to be more specific, creating two marine forecast zones instead of one — the “nearshore forecast,” from the shoreline to 15 nautical miles, and an “offshore forecast” from 15 to 100 nautical miles.

Braun says the marine weather zones will be re-numbered, some with new boundaries, so mariners should make sure to check those changes. That won’t impact Cook Inlet’s marine weather forecast, though Braun says some large coastal areas, like Prince William Sound, have been broken into smaller weather zones.

“The entire point of this change is to create better forecasts for people who are fishing near shore, or who are using boats to travel, for instance," she said.

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National Weather Service
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Malcolm Milne is the president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association, and has been commercially fishing out of Homer since 1994.

"It's a good upgrade," he said. "Because a lot of times the nearshore wind is a lot different than the offshore wind."

Milne says he’s seen winds change from 5 knots to 40 knots in less than an hour near the Flat Islands, near Nanwalek - and the more accurate weather information, the safer crews can be.

"The forecasts, the more accurate they are, the more specific they are, that just allows you to decide when you're fishing where and when to fish and where and when to travel," he said.

He says mariners now have cell phone service on the water, and can use weather apps like Windy in addition to the marine forecasts.

For more information about the changes to the marine weather forecast — going into effect March 8 — and the zone maps and boundaries, go to the National Weather Service website at weather.gov/alaska/marine.

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National Weather Service
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The new marine forecast with two zones - nearshore and offshore - is scheduled to take effect March 8, 2023

Corinne Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer who hails from Oakland, California. She’s reported for KFSK in Petersburg, KHNS in Haines, and most recently as a fish reporter for KDLG’s Bristol Bay Fisheries Report.