Weather or Not

Photo by Brian Fowler

Photo by Brian Fowler

Lighthouses originated to provide guidance to mariners navigating the sea or large inland waterways such as the Great Lakes.  Each shining light served as a focal point toward which to steer and often as a warning of rugged terrain and the water’s edge. But many lighthouses also serve an important role in detecting or warning of inclement weather and impending storms.

Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse is one of those lighthouses that provides weather forecasting because it houses a modern-day National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS) weather station among its other duties. The weather station tracks real-time weather information for use by researchers, commercial shipping captains and those enjoying a day on the lake.

There are several key components that make the weather station in the lighthouse function. Whirligigs affixed to the roof of the lighthouse spin non-stop measuring information such as wind speed and wind direction. The data generated by their movement is captured by sophisticated electronic equipment. Solar panels that hang from the widow’s walk ensure the collection and recording gear has power. All of this is monitored by NWS staff and even gets an in-person annual inspection. Not surprising in today’s high-tech world, the data recorded is also available on the Internet. You can log on any time to see the information for the FAI01 weather station here: or visit the front page of the lighthouse website: to see the NOAA/NWS weather feed.

As most people know, the weather in NE Ohio can change in an instant.  Winters are long and cold and the summers can be hot and humid. Recently, the weather phenomena known as “fair weather waterspouts” were observed on the lake.  Resembling tornados over water, they can be quite haunting and certainly dangerous for small watercraft.  They consist of a whirling column of air and water mist. The NWS states on its website that “fair weather waterspouts usually form along dark flat bases of a line of developing cumulus clouds. A fair weather waterspout begins to develop on the surface of the water and works its way upward. By the time the funnel is visible, a fair weather waterspout is near maturity.” Fortunately, that means they peter out fast and, like a rainbow, they can be gone in an instant.  But if you’re quick with a camera like photographer, Brian Fowler, you might get a photo. Fortunately, for the rest of us, the National Weather Station at Fairport Harbor West Lighthouse also tracks the current temperature and heat index, thus alerting us to the simple fact that it’s probably a good summer day at the beach.