Sue Pelling chats to Chris Tibbs - Official Weather Forecaster/Meteorologist for Skandia Cowes Week
Weather forecasting for Skandia Cowes Week is arguably one of the most stressful and thankless tasks on the Royal Yacht Squadron starting platform. Like the hundreds of volunteers working tirelessly for the eight days, the job of the weather forecaster often goes unnoticed until there’s a problem. For Chris Tibbs, the official weather forecaster/meteorologist for the week the phrase ‘no news is good news’ is definitely the aim.
According to Tibbs his job started the week before the racing, monitoring and analysing the weather systems to ensure he was ready for the onslaught of requests for a general overview of the week’s weather on the Thursday and Friday before racing started.
Once underway on the Saturday, Tibbs soon slotted in to his daily routine of getting up at the crack of dawn. Tibbs commented: “My day starts far too early. The alarm goes off at 5am and I usually get up straight away and look out of the window to see what the flags are doing. I then check out the situation on the computer using the UK Met Office and the American GFS model to see if things are going reasonably to plan.”
“I then start formulating a plan of what I think is going to happen, which I modify as the day goes on. For the Solent it’s really quite difficult because you look at what the pressure fields are saying and then you look at how thermal and local changes will change that – most of the models don’t pick them up very well. From there I start getting an overview of what the temperature is going to do, what clouds we’re going to have and what sort of wind we’re going to get.”
As a sailor turned meteorologist Tibbs knows exactly what the competitors at Skandia Cowes Week are looking for – he reckons he’s speaking the same language. What he’s not so good at is forecasting rain. Tibbs continued: “Telling sailors it’s going to rain is irrelevant. What I will tell them is that it’s going to be squally. They can read into that; if it’s going to be squally there’s going to be rain or showers anyway. However, I’m absolutely hopeless at imparting ‘useful’ weather information to my wife when all she wants to know is whether she can hang out the washing or not. Telling her ‘we’ve got a bit of convection’ is not what she wants to hear.”
After summing up the state of the weather for the day he issues a weather forecast to the race office and media centre and prepares for the first of the day’s radio broadcast sessions. “My radio bulletins start just after 7am,” said Tibbs, “with the first one going out at 0715 and then every two hours. That keeps me on the ball; makes me realise that I have to keep looking at the weather all the time. I can’t relax for a moment.”
Once Skandia Cowes Week comes to a close Tibbs will be heading west to Falmouth for another weather job – the start of the RORC Cascais race on 18 August. He’s then off to Malta for the Middle Sea Race where he’ll be racing aboard the French yachtSolune, the boat in which he recently broke the Round Britain and Ireland monohull record. Tibbs is unclear how much he’ll get involved in the some of the forthcoming big races such as the Vendée Globe Challenge or the Global Challenge but believes he’ll probably end up doing something for next year’s Volvo Ocean Race.