ERIE -- When Jeannette Schnars needs to know if the waves are safe enough take her family boating, she drives a couple of miles and looks for whitecaps.
For boaters and anglers who don't live near the lake, it isn't that easy. Sometimes, a three-hour drive to the Erie shore is wasted when the region's notoriously fickle weather goes south on short notice.
"There's weather information from inland stations, but it's all modeled and predicted, and there's been no wave monitoring of any kind," said Schnars, executive director of the Regional Science Consortium (www.regsciconsort.com) based at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center. "Some people trailer all the way up here, see bad weather and put in anyway trying not to waste the trip, even though it may be dangerous."
The recent installation of a new electronic buoy, facilitated by Schnars and her project partners, is expected to make near-shore boating off Erie County safer and more predictable.
Funded by a $100,000 grant from the Great Lakes Observing System, the buoy is anchored in 50 feet, 2 miles northwest of the lighthouse at Presque Isle. Powered with marine batteries charged by solar panels, it charts four separate wave measurements, three of wind and two of dissolved oxygen. The buoy was built to record air and water temperatures, conductivity, turbidity, relative humidity, barometric pressure and solar radiation. When the bugs are worked out it will shoot a video of water conditions and phone in a update every 20 minutes.
On an interactive display at www.PaLakeErieBuoy.com, users can break out graphs showing trends in each data category, a feature that will enable them to make more realistic predictions about the weather.
"It'll help us out greatly just for the wave height and the water temperatures," said Burt Campbell, captain of Reel Obsession charters and secretary of the Erie Pennsylvania Charter Boat Association. "This is the only thing out on the lake that actually gives you a wave height directly on Lake Erie."
News of the buoy was well received at Schnars' recent presentation for Lake Erie charter crews and other mariners.
"If they say there are 2-foot waves and I come around the point and they're 6-footers, that's $100 in fuel costs," said Campbell. "This will save us time and gas money, and help us a lot with the fishing trips."
Schnars said long-term upkeep of the buoy will depend in part on user donations.