Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lake Erie Boating Incident -- A Weather Related Accident???

It is a cold, hard fact that boating in April can offer some of the most treacherous and life threatening conditions on Lake Erie.  Late Wednesday evening, four boaters were reported missing.  By early Thursday morning, the stark discover of a partially capsized boat has been a dreaded discovery.  The temptation of sunshine and warmer spring days lure many to the icy cold waters of Lake Erie for early season fishing and recreation.  Here is the high resolution visible satellite image of Lake Erie on Wednesday, the morning of April the 16th.

The clear and sunny morning hid the dangers of a cold and eventually brisk afternoon on the lake.
Early morning temperatures were in the 30s with relative light southerly winds of less then 10 kts.  I'd imagine the lake looked glassy smooth, the total appearance of a great opportunity for venturing out onto the lake.  However, after 5 PM a very brisk and gusty east wind increased to 10 to 20 kts with occasional gust over 20 kts.  All experienced boaters know an east wind means business and bad news with very dangerous boating conditions on the western basin of Lake Erie.  The easterly winds maximize the "fetch" or distance it travels unobstructed over the open waters of Lake Erie.  This wind would quickly increase wave heights and lake currents turning a tranquil morning into a dangerous concoction of early spring boating.    
Here's the observed weather conditions from Wednesday on South Bass Island.
From 6 PM to 1 AM Wednesday night, wind speeds dramatically increased from a calm morning to a gusty east wind of 14 to 19 kts into the late afternoon and evening.
To follow that up, here is the wind gusts during 6 PM to 1 AM Wednesday evening.  Wind gusts from the east ranged from 18 to 21 kts for 7 consecutive hours.

Take a look at some of the modeled forecasts of this gusty east wind, highlighting the danger of an easterly wind fetch into western Lake Erie.  This created a corridor of wind gusts in excess of 20 kts from the Lake Erie Islands into the western basin of Lake Erie 

Turbulent lake currents in the vicinity of Middle Bass and South Bass Island south to Sandusky Bay and west to Maumee Bay State Park were a direct result of the increase in the east winds into the evening.
While stunning in beauty and full of recreation, it is unfortunate lives are lost every year due to the dangers of Lake Erie.  Thoughts and prayers go out to the families and the four individuals that are missing in the wake of their boat that was found partially capsized.  The icy cold lake water temperature of 44° does not offer much forgiveness when accidents happen this time of year.  It is a difficult time to remind everyone of the important lesson that early season spring boating should be reserved for very experienced and well equipped individuals. 
~Meteorologist Chris Vickers