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Boating and Severe Weather: A Volatile Mix

UPDATED May 20, 2012

By WeatherBug Meteorologists

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With summer around the corner, it`s time to pull out the boats, jet skis, and other watercraft and head out onto the water. However, summer is peak season for thunderstorms so knowing the signs of severe weather and the meanings of broadcast weather advisories could make your time on the water safer.

There have been many tragic events that have occurred on the waterways when a fast-developing or fast-moving storm approaches. One of those was the water taxi capsize in Baltimore`s harbor on May 1, 2004 that killed four people. The taxi was carrying 25 passengers when a fast-moving storm passed through, flipping the vessel.

The National Park Service collects statistics on weather-related fatalities in several places. On Lake Mead, for example, the park service says that weather is either a factor or a direct cause of five to 10 fatalities a year, with the biggest weather dangers being strong winds, lightning, and hot weather. Large waves triggered by strong winds cause the most problems.

In the spring and summer, the frequency of strong to severe thunderstorms increases. The dark, fast-moving clouds, heavy rains and lightning can catch boaters off guard, with not enough time to get back to land. It is important to have some knowledge of local weather, and to also have access to weather information.

Larger vessels, such as houseboats, sail boats or motor boats are usually equipped with NOAA weather radios, while others, like jet skis, canoes and kayaks, are not. It is always important to check the weather forecast on the local news or on WeatherBug to see if there is any possibility of local storms.

It is also important to have someone on land aware of your itinerary and a tentative timetable for your return. This way if a catastrophic event were to occur, there would be someone who you can contact or can start a search if you do not return as scheduled.

When listening to the advisories it is imperative to understand the information being broadcast. Here are a few of the important advisories you may hear:

A Small Craft Advisory indicates sustained weather or water conditions, either presently or forecast to be hazardous to small boats or water craft. It is issued when hazardous wave conditions or winds greater than 20 mph are expected.

A Gale Warning indicates that winds range from 37 to 54 mph; or tropical cyclone winds between 37 and 72 mph.

A Storm Warning indicates winds greater than 55 mph.

A Special Marine Warning is issued whenever a severe local storm or strong wind bursts is occurring or imminent, but is not covered by any of the other warnings or advisories.

WeatherBug, your local news and weather and a NOAA weather radio are great ways to stay abreast of the changing weather. Keeping these ideas in mind when out of port could save your life.

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