Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Storm Dodge Ball

En Route, Lake Champlain


Yesterday morning we visited Libby's cousin Jane.   The visit was short though.  I was nervous about an approaching cold front and I wanted to get to a secure anchorage early.   We made it with plenty of time.   We'll try to visit Jane again sometime this summer.

When the front came, around 1900, we played the dodge ball game.  One severe storm passed about 1 mile north of us.  Another passed 20 miles south of us.  Both packed 60 knot winds, and both knocked down lots of trees.  On the VHF radio we listened to a panicked man in Mallets Bay call "Mayday Mayday"  He was in a motorboat with small children on board and his anchor dragged and his steering failed.   After 10 minutes back and forth answering the Coast Guard's inane questions he said, "Never mind, we have it fixed now."

Where we were, we saw nothing more than 40 knots for less than 10 minutes.   There's a big difference between a direct hit and a near miss by severe storms.  Thus the analogy to dodge ball.

We get to play that game a dozen or so times every year.  All places up and down the East Coast are subject to severe thunderstorms in any season.  Needless to say, they peak in the hot humid days of summer when we are in the Northeast.

What are the odds of us getting hit rather than a near miss.  I estimate that we get a direct hit about once per year, and perhaps 12 near misses.  In other words, 90+ percent chance of a miss.  

The scariest part of a severe thunderstorm is not the storm itself, but rather the warnings of the national weather service on the VHF weather radio.  I swear that we should stop listening to that, but I don't think we ever will.

The best calming technique is to watch the doppler radar images complete with storm tracks on the Droid ph9ne.  On that display we see much clearer and much earlier which storms will be near misses.  Unfortunately, up here on Lake Champlain, we are without a cell phone signal more often than not.

Have we ever dragged anchor and lost control during a direct hit?  No.  We've dragged a little bit, but not much.   You see, the intense winds of a storm front tend to last only 10-15 minutes.  Even in very strong winds, the waves can't build very much, and it is the up/down tug of waves rather than wind that jeapordize the bite of the anchor.

The scariest one I remember happened on night when we were anchored just south of Vaca Key near Marathon.  A cold front came through with a single powerful gust of wind.   That gust laid Tarwathie over about 60 degrees.  Then it was gone.  It really started us.

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