Springtime in Missouri means ever-changing weather. In the last month, Missourians have enjoyed clear days in the 70s and at other times taken shelter from tornados. When it’s warm out, spring is a great time to enjoy Missouri’s many lakes and rivers. But remember that thunderstorms may to develop quickly this time of year.
When a thunderstorm looms on the horizon, it’s time to get ashore. Lightning, torrential rain, and rough waters can turn a pleasurable outing into a life-threatening situation in moments. An unaware boater or fisherman can be taken by surprise, and not realize the danger a thunderstorm brings. Severe conditions can quickly overwhelm smaller craft, resulting in swamping, capsizing, collisions, falls overboard, and other dangerous occurrences. Some thunderstorms can create microbursts–intense downdrafts over an area a half-mile to 2.5 miles wide─capable of producing wind gusts from 60 mph to more than 100 mph. Microbursts can capsize a small boat or blow a passenger overboard.
Before leaving the marina or launch ramp, boaters should check their local weather stations for storm warnings and other weather alerts. Knowing there’s a “chance of a thunderstorm” won't necessarily tell a boater when one is headed his or her way.
Weather fronts typically move in from the west/southwest, so scan the horizon in that direction periodically for lightning flashes and other signs. Recognizing that a “lowering ceiling” — flat clouds getting lower and thicker — indicates an approaching storm front. To determine the distance of an approaching storm, count the number of seconds between the flash of lighting and the sound of thunder then divide the number of seconds by five. This will give you a rough idea of the distance in miles. If you notice signs of an approaching storm, immediately head for the nearest boat ramp or dock. These fast-developing thunderstorms are usually short in duration. Never try to outrun the storm in open water.
If you do get caught on the water during a thunderstorm, make sure everyone in the boat is wearing a properly secured life jacket. Have your passengers sit low and in the center of the boat. Then, head for bank of the river or shore of the lake. Make sure all doors, windows and hatches are closed to reduce the risk of swamping and to keep the bilge free of water. If there is lightning, disconnect all electrical equipment. If you are in a small boat, which could easily capsize or swamp, or if the conditions get too bad, head to shore immediately, beach your boat and seek shelter.
Weather can be both friend and foe to fishermen and recreational boaters. Staying alert to weather changes and taking appropriate action when necessary goes a long way toward safeguarding both lives and property.