Weather is a funny thing. Even on the sunniest days, a squall can appear. Local conditions have a way of changing suddenly so it’s vital you keep your eyes, ears, and other sensors searching for any clues that might foretell changes in atmospheric conditions.
You can follow the weather on your phone with various apps, check in daily on local TV, hear an updated weather forecast every 15 minutes on some radio stations or go online to check the latest NOAA forecast. On the water, you can also use your VHF-FM weather radio or VHF transceiver with built-in NOAA weather channels. Any of these, or better still, a combination of options, should ensure you catch the most recent forecast.
Easy access to updated weather projections is a big plus, but it still doesn’t ensure you’ll stay warm, dry, and comfortable.
Cloud cover can tell you a lot.
Most thunderstorm and squall activity approach from the west or southwest. On hot, humid, summer days especially, check out the western and southern horizons at regular intervals just to see what might be brewing in the distance. Low, flat, dense clouds can signal an approaching storm front with steady rain while tall clouds that develop quickly and rise to towering heights or form an anvil shape often indicate thunderstorms or a squall on the way. Expect them to move in the direction the anvil is pointing.
Lightning – even in the distance – is a sure signal to find safe harbor. Be aware that it has the ability to reach out several miles both ahead and behind the actual storm and, thus, can put you and your crew at risk even if there are blue skies overhead.
sense pressure changes.
Larger vessels often carry a barometer aboard so skippers can instantly see changes in pressure. A dropping barometer signals inclement weather on the approach while a rising barometer foretells high pressure and clearing skies (which can also bring brisk winds). While there’s nothing better than instrumentation, most seasoned boaters can sense rapidly falling barometric pressure. At the point you can feel it, it’s time to decide where you’ll head should conditions on the water deteriorate.
As hot air rises on hot and humid summer days, cooler air rushes in to fill the void. A sudden cool or freshening breeze accompanying expanding or rising cloud cover on a hot afternoon is a sure sign that foul weather is approaching or developing. In fact, most find this one of the surest tips-offs that things are soon to change, so heed this warning, make-ready, and ensure you are within a reasonable distance of safe harbor.
Lastly, look to wildlife to provide weather clues. Fish often feed ferociously on the dropping barometer that proceeds a storm so be sure not to overstay your welcome no matter how productive the blitz. Seagulls and terns will often head ashore to hunker down before bad weather arrives, and mammals like seals, manatees, and sea turtles will likely make themselves somewhat scarce as well.
If the clouds are approaching and you suddenly find yourself feeling very alone on the water, that’s your cue to clear the deck and get to safety. No cruise, fish, or fun is worth risking your safety when the weather turns rotten. Lesson learned? Head to shore at the first sign of weather trouble.