One of the things we try to do both in the print edition of the Farmers’ Almanac and on our website is to speak to the dangers of weather. I have shared information about thunder/ lightning storms in the past, but recently I had a question that has not come up in the past and one that had dogged me for years. It is a good one.
Cheryl lives in the Midwest and asks: “I’ve been searching – to no avail- for an answer to a lightning question. It was not answered in your article either.When in a boat (cabin cruiser) on a large lake, is it best to stay out away from trees or go close to trees, like in a cove, to wait out a storm? No marinas or boathouse protection is available. Any help would be appreciated.”
What a great question. It reminds me of a predicament I was in once. Years ago I worked at a Boys Camp in Maine. Another counselor and I had just finished a 3 day trip with “perfect weather.” We loaded the gear and boys in metal boat to tow back to the pick up point. As we came around the island we saw a monster thunderstorm coming at us. With a five mile tow and nowhere to hide, we opted to head to shoreline, jump on a bolder, cover ourselves with a tarp and “pray.” We survived of course unscathed, but now that Cheryl has asked this question again, I decided to get some expert advice from my good friend, John Jensenius, a lightning expert at the National Weather Service.
John points out that if you are out for a day, be sure to listen to weather forecasts and plan accordingly. And, it is always good to carry a radio should there be any surprises. Ultimately, John says” neither are particularly good choices……..however, of the two alternatives suggested, it’s best not to be in open water where you are the highest object. Near trees, you are less likely to take a direct strike.”
I’d also add that during such a storm being in the middle of a lake in addition to being a high point got lightning, there is the added danger of strong winds and possibility of capsizing. So, if you can find a protected cove, it appears to be the safest place. I’d also offer that trees along a shore tend not to be the tallest in forests. So, these are less likely to be struck. Great question. If you have a question about lightning, tornadoes or other summer dangers, please ask.