Summer is here, and with it, plenty of daylight hours to spend on the water fishing or boating. But while summer brings with it visions of sunshine and warm temperatures, it can also bring in the chaotic weather that often puts a swift end to all that fun on the water. Thunderstorms especially those associated with lightning, and wind are all bad news if you’re caught unprepared on the water. The good news is that with a little basic knowledge, you can learn to predict when these coming storms, and get yourself out off the water before you’re in danger.
Seasoned boaters have learned to watch to the skies for impending storms and if things don’t look promising they head for safety. Here are a few tips for keeping your eye on the sky:
• Bad weather is often forecast before you ever leave shore, so make certain you check your local weather stations or local marine forecast paying careful attention all marine warnings that may be posted for your area or the area you may be heading.
• Look for the telltale signs of a forming thunderstorm such as clumps of thick cumulous clouds (the puffy, cotton-ball type) darkening into a towering, cumulonimbus cloud (think cumulous growing vertically, with an anvil-like shape at the top). Begin heading for safety whenever you see clouds in this formation. Severe winds, lighting, rain or worse can occur in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.
• The severity of a storm can often be predicted by the shape and color of a cloud’s front edge. The darker, sharper, and lower the edge, the more severe the storm. A storm cloud’s anvil-shaped top also will typically point in the direction the storm is traveling.
• During the summer thunderstorms will often build over the water when the humidity and temperature on land are high. As hot air radiates upward, it absorbs moisture from nearby water, ultimately rising to begin forming a thunderhead. The telltale sign of these storms are fast-moving black clouds, often approaching from the southwest, south, or west.
• How long do you have before a storm arrives? Try this trick. When you first see a lighting flash, count how many seconds pass before you hear the accompanying clap of thunder, then divide by five. The result is the number of miles you are away from the storm.
• Even if a storm is still several miles away, the lightning it generates can easily reach you. Lighting often strikes well before a storm, as well as once the storm has seemingly passed. Watch for the “coppery” haze and building cumulonimbus clouds that indicate a thunderstorm, and seek shelter well in advance.
• If you can’t outrun a storm or find some kind of shelter, point your craft into the wind, and try to take approaching waves at a 90-degree angle. This will keep your pump in the water, and lessen the chance of your craft getting rolled over. It’s also best to stay as low as possible, so that your body is not the tallest target on the water.
• Remember, whenever you’re venturing farther than just your local bay or shore, a handheld VHF radio can be a lifesaver. Many include a weather alert feature to warn of approaching storms. In addition, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) broadcast continual weather bulletins on designated “WX’ channels, which are updated every six hours.