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Outwitting Thunderstorms on the Lake

Missouri jet skiers know summer on the lake is hot. When hot air from land surfaces combine with moisture from the lake, thunderheads form and an electrified thunderstorm can occur in less than thirty minutes. Staying off the lake during stormy periods is the best prevention when it comes to being struck by lightning. But the reality is, even the most experienced of jet skiers can lose track of time and get caught on the water when lightning strikes. Unfortunately, there’s no safe place to be outside in a thunderstorm. According to the National Weather Service, the third leading cause of death by lightning strikes is while boating and fishing. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind if you absolutely can’t get to safety when a thunderstorm hits when you’re jet skiing out on the lake.

98464-storm-jet-ski-a39b6Before heading out for a day on the lake, jet skiers need to be prepared. One of the best ways to be prepared is by checking the National Weather Service. With continuously updated weather forecasts, the NWS provides accurate short-term forecasts that can save you and your family’s lives. But let’s face it, sometimes even the weather guy doesn’t get it right either. So jet skiers have to rely on their instincts and senses. It’s like Will Turner from Disney’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” said to his fiancée, Elizabeth Swann, “Keep a weather eye on the horizon.” It doesn’t take but an occasional glance at the western sky to check for storm clouds or listening for thunder throughout the day, to keep you and your family safe and at the ready. The first lightning of an approaching thunderstorm can be a mile or more in front of it, giving you and your family a better chance at getting back to shore before the storm hits.

If you get caught on the lake when a thunderstorm hits, make sure everyone is wearing a life jacket. If you are towing an inner tube or raft, secure these items. Once your items are secure, determine your current location and the best route to get back to shelter. Once a thunderstorm hits it’s a good idea to take on the heaviest gusts of wind (usually the first or front of the storm) on the bow instead of abeam. It’s important to think of your jet ski as a small boat. Taking on the heaviest gusts of wind on the bow is the most seaworthy position for small boats.

When the wind picks up, so will the waves. To reduce pounding and provide you and your passengers with a safer and more comfortable ride, waves should be approached at a 45 degree angle. If you see lightning in the area, you’ll want to stay low on your jet ski. The last thing you want is to make yourself the tallest target on the lake. If you experience your hair standing on end, a tingling in your arms or back or your neck, or you can hear buzzing, get in a low crouching position and cover your head with your arms. A phenomenon like this is caused by an extremely high electric field in the atmosphere.

Before you head out to the lake this summer, be sure to tune into the National Weather Service for the weather forecast, stay alert and conscious of the sky and your surroundings. And remember, it doesn’t have to be raining for lightning to strike.