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Marine Weather Forecasting in the Carolinas


The Carolinas Regional Coastal Ocean Observing System (RCOOS), a network of coastal and ocean observing platforms funded by the NOAA Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) and SECOORA, is a coordinated and multifaceted observing system for North Carolina and South Carolina. The Carolinas RCOOS is a complete operational system that deploys and maintains coastal and oceanographic observing systems, provides data management and analyses for observations and model development, and conducts outreach and partnership activities in both states. Information collected through the Carolinas RCOOS aids NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) in making marine forecasts and determining when to issue Special Marine Advisories.


The Carolinas RCOOS currently operates 9 real time stations in North Carolina and South Carolina coastal waters, which collect and report weather and oceanographic conditions. Data including wave height, period and direction, wind speed, gust and direction, air temperature and water temperature are collected via surface and sub-surface equipment mounted on buoys and piers. This information is used by the general public as well as by a number of State and Federal agencies.


NOAA’s NWS meteorologists routinely use Carolinas RCOOS observing data. During March 2007, the network of buoys off the Cape Fear coast indicated the passage of a cold front much earlier than models predicted. As a result, the NWS was able to adjust the start time for a Small Craft Advisory that gave mariners extra time to prepare for the stronger winds in the wake of the front.

NWS Radar ImageDuring hazardous marine thunderstorms, such as squall lines or super-cells, the NWS uses weather buoys to provide “sea truth” information about the passage of these storms. The winds reported by these stations inform mariners about expected conditions as storms move through. On November 30, 2008, a weather buoy 25 miles east of Wrightsville Beach indicated strong winds with the passage of a thunderstorm. As a result, the NWS issued a Special Marine Warning alerting mariners in the path of the thunderstorm to prepare for high winds. The thunderstorm eventually produced 35 to 40 knot winds as it moved toward the southeast NC coast.

These examples indicate the necessity of real-time coastal and marine observations.

  • The inclusion of buoy reports adds credibility to NWS warnings, which motivates boaters to take action.
  • The observations help the NWS improve safety and efficiency of maritime operations and mitigate the effects of natural hazards.
  • The dissemination of real-time observations allows mariners to make informed boating decisions based on weather and sea-state reports.

Image: NWS radar image showing precipitation during passage of a strong thunderstorm on Nov. 30, 2008. Information provided by offshore weather buoys was used to issue a Special Marine Warning, alerting mariners in the storm’s path to prepare for high winds. Image NWS Wilmington.

Future Development

With future grants, SECOORA may fund additional sensor deployments so that more observing stations collect wave data, which will enable the NWS to make better sea state forecasts for the marine community.

"The systems provide great benefit to end users currently, but the designs are versatile and allow for the placement of additional sensors as dictated by regional user needs. "

Dr. Lynn Leonard
UNC Wilmington, Carolinas RCOOS Manager


Visit the Carolina RCOOS Web site.

Contact Lynn Leonard for more information.