January 18, 2019

Capt. Jack’s Winter Weather Primer

winter weather
The freezing winter weather opening 2018 even froze the shoreline of the mighty Patuxent River. Cedar Point, home of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, is in the far background, to the right of the mouth of the river leading into the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Stephanie Stevens.

Message From the Cap’n is a compilation of fishing advice, waterman and weather insights, Chesapeake lore, and ordinary malarkey from the folks who keep their feet wet in the Potomac and St. Mary’s rivers.

As 2018 opens, the lower Potomac water temperature is hovering around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Interpretive Buoy System, and salinity is 18 parts per unit.

If you are like me and stay confounded by the weather just tell yourself, “You don’t know Jack.” Nevertheless, like all old watermen, there are a few guiding principles that I use to consider what the weather might be. First, I get an updated weather/almanac calendar. Here is the Ramon’s Brownie Calendar sponsored locally by Ridgell Oil Co. The almanac offers references on best planting days, a fishing guide, the zodiac, sunrise, sunset, moon rise, and much more.

Add into the almanac wisdom a dose of waterman lore, which first of all determines that it is always colder in the winter when the moon is full. This January we had a  full moon on Jan. 1 and will have another one on Jan. 31. The cold is retreating this second week as the moon starts to “go back” (wane) and the next cold spell will probably be the last of the month. Notice that the days are getting about a minute longer every day and that’s good for us as the sun moves a little more toward the south each day.

Observable on Island Creek where Sea-Fruit Oyster Co. is located, is that most ice on the water surface “makes” at daylight, just as the sun starts to “peek its head over the horizon.”

The tide generally raises and falls with the moon. It will rise when the moon ascends from  the eastern horizon to the center of its arc and then it will fall until it hits the horizon in the west. Strong winds can wreak havoc on tides. In the first week of January, a Bomb Cyclone caused flooding as the winds of a powerful Nor’easter moved across Boston. As the storm continued, the west-northwest winds caused extremely low tides in Maryland, the result of the week-long storm blowing water out of the Chesapeake.

Boats at the Sea-Fruit Oyster Co. dock rest on ice during the early 2018 freeze across the mid-Atlantic region.



The inlets and creeks are full of ice, bringing the water industry to a standstill. The five to six inches of ice made on the water now needs some rain to “rot” it and make it sink.

Ice does serve a useful purpose for oystermen, in that it grabs the lips of oysters around the shoreline, pulls them out of the bottom and drops  them as it melts.

Meanwhile blue crabs are “in the mud” where they spend their winters. The 2018 winter dredge survey will give an indication of the crab population for the upcoming season.

Needless to say the oyster business has almost come to a standstill. The rain and fog following the deep freeze will help and the oystermen will be back to work in about a week. The price of oysters had fallen just before the “freeze-up.” The market will be cleared up when the folks get back to work.

Waterman’s Lore: Three extremely low tides in a row brings “falling weather.”

Remember: “It’s Our Bay, Let’s Pass It On”

Till next time,

Capt. Jack

To learn about tours and trips into the Chesapeake, get more information on Fins + Claws’ Leader Member Page.

One Response to “Capt. Jack’s Winter Weather Primer”
  1. Shaun Kane says:

    Good stuff. Thanks for this. It’s simple to understand and gets right to the important stuff that we need to keep in our memory banks.

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