Summer is here, and with it, plenty of daylight hours to spend aboard your PWC or boat. But while summer brings with it visions of sunshine and warm temperatures, it can also bring in the turbulent weather that can put a swift end to all that fun on the water. Thunderstorms, lightning, and wind are all bad news should you be caught unprepared aboard a personal watercraft or boat. The good news is that with a little basic knowledge, you can learn to predict many of those coming storms, and get yourself out of the water before you’re ever in danger.
Here are a few tips for keeping your eye on the sky:
• Bad weather is often forecast before you ever leave shore. Check the television, newspaper, or Internet for your local marine forecast, and pay careful attention to any warnings that may be posted for the area in which you intend to ride.
• Look for the telltale signs a thunderstorm is forming, 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). When you see this formation starting, head for shore. Winds, lighting, rain or worse can occur within as little as 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 that edge, the more severe the storm is likely to be. A storm cloud’s anvil-shaped top also will typically point in the direction the storm is traveling.
• Thunderstorms often build over the water in summer when the humidity and temperature on land are high. The reason? Hot air radiates upward from the sun-heated ground, and absorbs moisture from the nearby water, ultimately rising to begin to form 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 flash of lighting, count how many seconds pass before you hear the accompanying thunder clap, 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 reach you with ease. Lighting can strike 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 decent shelter, point your craft into the wind, and try to take approaching waves at a 90-degree angle on a PWC. 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. Once on shore, follow the same tactic, taking shelter near a lower tree, well away from the trunk.
• 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) broadcasts continual weather bulletins on designated “WX’ channels, which are updated every six hours.