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Sea Areas used in Weather Forecasts are explained here for Europe and the Mediterranean, METAREAS I, II and III.
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METAREAs or NAVAREAs are regions of the oceans for which specified nations have the responsibility for the co-ordination of the provision of meteorological and other marine safety information. For METAREAs see the INMARSAT coverage map which shows all METAREAs worldwide. METAREAS I, II, III and IV, covering the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean are the responsibility of the UK, France, Greece and the USA respectively.
METAREAs are usually divided into sea areas for weather forecast broadcast using INMARSAT-C, NAVTEX, VHF, MF/SSB and HF/SSB radio. Co-ordination of the definition and naming of sea areas comes under the IMO NAVTEX Co-ordination Panel.
Some guiding principles are that a sea area should not straddle two or more METAREAs and that names of sea areas should, as far as possible relate to well known geographical locations or areas. Although the names as used by the various Met services might differ due to national spelling, they should be recognisable.
Harmonisation of sea area name has been largely implemented for METAREAs I, II and III. In METAREA I, there has been complete harmonisation by countries bordering both the North Sea and the Baltic. For METAREA II, France, Spain, Portugal and Morocco use the same sea areas with the same names. At the time, this was a tidying up operation designed to remove inconsistencies in sea areas used by different countries and by the same country for different purposes. At the time this caused a furore in the British press because of the "loss" of sea area Finisterre from the shipping forecast.
The UK still uses different sea areas in METAREA II; this is largely in order to maintain conformity with the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4. This has severe time constraints that preclude use of more areas. Because the UK does. not have a GMDSS responsibility in METAREA II it could be argued that their NAVTEX broadcast should either end at the boundary of METAREAS I and II (V) or that the UK NAVTEX broadcast should use the agreed areas
See Martin Stubbs' FAQ for more background.
For areas in METAREA I, French weather forecasts and warnings (bulletins au large) on the national NAVTEX 490 kHz transmissions, use the same area boundaries as the UK forecasts, but with French area names for Thames, Dover, Wight, Portland and Plymouth. For the French names see charts linked below.
The first two of these charts show the UK sea areas used in the UK High Seas and Shipping forecasts. The name Fitzroy is an exception to the general rule for naming sea areas because there are no geographical features or locations in this area suitable for the purpose. Exceptionally, therefore the UK now uses the name of its first Director and a founding father of marine weather prediction.
NAVTEX broadcasts from Valentia and Malin Head include the texts for the High Seas areas East Central Section (Valentia) and the East Northern and Central Sections (Malin Head). See the NAVTEX page.
The BBC Weather site shows texts of all UK NAVTEX forecasts as well as much other useful marine weather information.
Forecast areas for the Baltic have also been harmonised. For areas to the north of the UK Shipping Forecast areas, Norway provides forecasts using its own areas.
UK sailors, naturally, tend to use UK Met Office forecasts, but a point worth emphasising here is that French and Spanish forecasts for Biscay should be more specific than the BBC Shipping Forecast or the UK NAVTEX since they divide the area into four parts. Similarly for the area FitzRoy which is divided into two by French and Spanish forecasts. The BBC broadcast for FitzRoy and Biscay should, therefore be seen as a back-up if reception by NAVTEX, for example, has failed. However, the BBC shipping forecast is still worth monitoring because it is written anew every six hours using all the latest data and the latest computer runs of the numerical weather prediction models. It can, thus, give early indication of changes to forecast development.
Areas used on INMARSAT-C in their "Bulletins au Grande Large" and by Radio Monaco on HF/SSB can be seen on the Météo France website and copied below. Sea areas used by Météo France in NAVTEX "Bulletins au Large" on Radio France Inter (162 kHz) and the France Info network of medium wave stations are shown below. . Click on the link for a chart showing the all the Atlantic areas used by the Spanish Met service.
Areas used in broadcasts by Radio France Internationale on HF voice radio use areas are shown below. There is also a chart showing areas used by Spain on NAVTEX and MF broadcasts.
Common sea area names are used by France, Spain, Croatia, Greece and Turkey in the Mediterranean. The names are recognisable even if spelt a little differently eg Sardaigne and Cerdeña; HOWEVER, Italian NAVTEX areas are not the same as those used by other Mediterranean countries. Conformity is not in the Italian psyche see the Italian areas below.
It can be useful to see texts of forecasts for all these areas. Partly this can help to be prepared for what you will read or hear later. In the case of forecasts broadcast in French and Spanish, it can help to be aware of the terminology. Texts can be found from my GMDSS page . A fairly comprehensive list of French weather terms is also to be found on another page of this site.