A Weather Forecast to Nobody’s Liking

Conditions Should be Challenging but Manageable

Storm clouds over the Charles on Friday. Wind and rain could play a role in the weekend's racing.

Storm clouds over the Charles on Friday. Wind and rain could play a role in the weekend’s racing.

by Katelyn Nardi — Posted on October 22, 2016

Athletes, spectators and staff alike were on edge all day Friday as the chance for poor weather during this weekend’s Regatta became increasingly likely.

Friday’s cooperative weather—when predicted rain showers never arrived until after dark—had everyone at the Charles’ riverbank hopeful that Saturday and Sunday would turn out surprisingly pleasant as well.

MIT meteorologist Costa Christopoulos has been closely monitoring the incoming weather, alongside several directors of the Head of the Charles, who make all decisions concerning race delays, adjustments or—worst-case scenario—cancellation.

Christopoulos’ most recent forecast for day one of competition is calling for probable scattered showers with up to a third of an inch of rain possible, especially in the late morning or early afternoon. There is a possibility of patchy fog in the morning as well.

Additionally, sustained winds are predicted to be around 5-12 mph throughout Saturday morning, picking up through the day and blowing as strong as 20 mph late Saturday through the day on Sunday, with some Sunday gusts potentially reaching 30-35 mph.

“Organizers are mostly concerned with heavy rain, strong winds, or lighting, all of which pose risks to rowers, organizers and spectators” Christopoulos said Friday evening. “Strong winds can generate a choppy river surface, making rowing and steering difficult.”

In the event that the weather worsens drastically, contingency plans are set in place to resolve a potentially dangerous situation. Race Director Bob Mannino described the steps Regatta staff go through to ensure safety for all. Meetings are held with several directors and representatives involved with the Regatta and the Charles River daily operation itself, in the early morning hours where weather-related information is exchanged.

The coordination between multiple representatives allows for a determination to be made regarding the conditions of the river. Additionally, the race directors go on a tour of the river by boat before any decisions are made.

If the conditions are poor enough, there is a “short-course” which the race could default to. The short course would provide a more-sheltered region for rowers. Regardless, Mannino is fairly confident all will run smoothly this weekend.

“The race is not going to get cancelled” he said Friday afternoon. “But we do have the ability to cancel or change [the race status] mid-day.”

Mannino and the rest of the Head of the Charles staff, are constantly in contact with people over at the Charles River Basin. They receive text messages with updates on the current weather situation and river status, including the water level and current rate of flow of the Charles.

Within the Charles River operation, structures are used to drain water from the basin into the harbor twice a day regardless of the weather, unless the conditions are abnormally dry, according to William Gode, the director of Flood Control Management for the Army Corps of Engineers.

In regard to this weekend’s weather outlook, Gode said that the flood management committee would be taking additional measures to insure water level stability due to the incoming rain and this weekend’s big Regatta.

“We will be dropping the basin down into the lower half because of the anticipation of rain” he said Friday afternoon. “We are going to be heading into a drainage cycle around 5pm [Friday] and we’re going to be monitoring the response of the river for further decisions.”

Ultimately, rowers are a hearty lot, and where some might see challenge, others see opportunity. Members of the Penn State women’s crew team said poor conditions, especially strong winds, forces their group to work more as a boat and to make sure that everything is in sync. Their team strength and endurance in such conditions will be tested on Sunday.

“Sometimes when it’s that windy, it’s not always about who the fastest crew is,” one member said Friday. “Instead, it’s about who can handle the weather better.”

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