As the late spring and early summer seasons continue to usher in frequent, often powerful storms across the Commonwealth, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) reminds boaters and anglers to be alert for potentially dangerous water conditions.
“We want people to enjoy the water during one of the most beautiful times of year,” said Ryan Walt, PFBC Boating and Watercraft Safety Manager. “Keeping an eye on the weather forecast before and during your trip is a smart practice to make sure you don’t get caught off guard.”
According to Jeff Jumper, State Meteorologist for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), thunderstorms can be very isolated. A late spring or early summer storm can deliver damaging, strong winds, rain or hail to one area while having little or no impact on areas just a few miles away.
“That can be problematic for boaters or even anglers wading in a creek or river,” said Jumper. “Areas impacted directly by the storm may experience high, fast-moving water almost immediately. Those impacts can also carry downstream to waterways that did not experience any precipitation.”
Jumper says even storms that do not produce much rain can produce powerful winds capable of breaking tree limbs or blowing other debris into waterways that can present a safety hazard. Plus, all thunderstorms can create dangerous lightning, which can strike anywhere. He says if you can hear thunder, you’re close enough to be struck. Lightning can strike ten miles away or more from the storm and waterways do not provide safe shelter.
While high and fast-moving water can be dangerous for watercraft of all sizes, operators of unpowered boats, such as canoes and kayaks, can be especially at risk during a storm.
“Heavy winds can make paddling more difficult when you’re trying to get yourself off the water,” said Walt. “Prepare yourself for inclement weather by becoming familiar with your waterway in advance. Map out your trip and file a float plan that includes several places you can stop along the way for a break, check the local forecast, and if needed, ride out a passing storm.”
Both Walt and Jumper say boaters can add an extra layer of protection by investing in a portable NOAA weather radio, visiting the Severe Thunderstorm Safety page at www.ReadyPA.govOpens In A New Window, and wearing a life jacket at all times, regardless of weather conditions. According to PFBC boating accident reports, roughly 80-percent of all boating fatalities occur annually because boaters were not wearing life jackets.