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Weather or Not. What is the mafor code?

By Nic DiGravio

Nic DiGravioHave you ever made a trip to a great lake such as Erie early in the morning and watched as people drove away with their boats in tow and you wonder, why? Then, being curious in nature, you get out of your truck only to see that the lake is white with fury. Well that trip could have been avoided. You could have been on an inland lake such as Scugog or Rice or any other lake, doing what you drove 2 hours to do... FISH. But no, here you are staring at lake Erie with its 8ft. waves. There is a way, believe it or not, to get an idea as to what that "particular" great lake is going to do that "particular" day. It is called the Mafor code.

You are probably asking yourself, what is a Mafor code? If you draw a blank don't worry, many boaters share the same feeling about it, but to me this code is sacred. Now lets face it, Lake Erie is one heck of a Small mouth factory, but this lake is unpredictable, or is it. Now I am not saying that the Mafor code is 100 percent correct all the time, but I must say that it is pretty close. It is much more detailed than your weather people on the six o'clock news. It gives you wind direction, wind speed, weather, and the greatest thing of all, it gives you the time frame as to when all this weather is going to happen. It also gives you wave heights, which is very handy. So, for example, it can tell you tomorrow at 6:00 am it will be calm with variable winds and sunny, but at 9:00 am the wind will come from the north at 17 - 21 knots and it is going to rain. At 12 pm the winds will come from the north at 34 - 40 knots and it will be sunny. How would you like to be on some shoal on lake Erie when that wind hits. That is what I mean by having an idea as to what you are in for at any given time of the day.

Anyone can access this Mafor code if you have the internet or a VHF radio (you require a license for a VHF radio). If you have the internet, click HERE and have a peek. When you get to this page, read the top paragraph and it will tell you what time this broadcast has started. When you have determined the time scroll down past the plain language forecast to the MAFOR section. This section will give you the name of each great lake with the codes beside it. Write the codes down beside your time on a piece of paper and have the chart below handy. Now you are ready to decode.

As an example, your paper should read something like this: Lake Erie start time is 3am- 13410, 14616, 11120. The amount of codes will vary depending on how many changes take place in 24 hours. (The number 1 in the beginning of each code is just telling us the area we are in, so disregard it.) The next number is the time frame, followed by the wind direction, wind speed, and the last number is the weather. By looking at the chart below you will be able to crack the codes

mafor weather codes
1st number 2nd Number 3rd Number 4th Number 5th Number
Always 1, Time Period Wind Direction Wind Speed Weather
  0 is current 0 is calm 0 is 0-10 knots 0 is good visibility
  1 is 3hrs 1 is North East 1 is 11-16 knots 1 is Risk of Ice
  2 is 6hrs 2 is East 2 is 17-20 knots 2 is Bad Risk of Ice
  3 is 9hrs 3 is South East 3 is 22-27 knots 3 is Mist
  4 is 12 hrs 4 is South 4 is 28-33 knots 4 is Fog
  5 is 18 hrs 5 is South West 5 is 34-40 knots 5 is Drizzle
  6 is 24 hrs 6 is West 6 is 41-47 knots 6 is Rain
  7 is 48 hrs 7 is North West 7 is 48-55 knots 7 is snow or Rain
  8 is 72 hrs 8 is North 8 is 56-63 knots 8 is Squalls
  9 is occasional 9 is Variable 9 is 64-71 knots 9 is Thunderstorms

EXAMPLE: Lake Erie start time 3am #'s 13410,14616 and 11120

mafor example
  Time Wind Direction Wind Speed Weather
1 3 4 1 0
  3am to 12pm South 11-16 knots Good Visibility

Let me walk you through decoding this one.

We take the last four numbers, of the first code for lake Erie, at 3am, which is 3410. The number 3 is the amount of time. So, if you look down your time chart for the number 3 you will see 9 hrs. Now we know that this particular weather window is from 3am to 12pm, doing your math. The number 4 is the wind direction, look down its column and you will see that it reads South. From 3am to 12pm lake Erie will have wind coming from the south. At what speed? Well, if you look at your next number, which is 1, scrolling down your speed column you learn that the speed is 11-16 knots, and going to your next number 0, its' column states that there will be good visibility. In a nutshell, I would be heading to lake Erie that morning and getting in on the great small mouth action because from 3am to 12pm the winds will be from the South at 11 to 16 knots and good visibility.

By decoding the Mafor code before your next great lake outing you will save valuable FISHING time on the water. If the code tells you the lake will be rough in the morning but calm in the afternoon, plan your trip for the afternoon or just fish a different lake altogether because now you have an outlook for the wind and weather that day. Try to decode a different great lake if the one you planned on going to will be too rough to fish.

Take your time practicing the code. Do it over and over again through the winter months so you can become an expert by the time the season starts. The code is there for the taking, so use it wisely, but still practice safe boating because you never know when mother nature will throw you a curve.

The Weather page at ProBassFishing.ca also has a link to Environment Canada's Mafor Code

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