*Fishin’ For Trouble*
The day started out innocently enough. It was a typical spring Friday here in Virginia a few years go, sunny and warm with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms. When I went out for lunch, scattered thunderstorms were starting to build up, but there was no organization, no line forming up, nothing out of the ordinary.
About three o’clock we were under one of these scattered thunderstorms. When five o’clock rolled around I drove through one on my way home, but the storms were still widely scattered, like I said, a typical spring day. When I got home I hooked up the boat and loaded up the Blazer with a little night fishing in mind. About six-thirty a little thundershower was over the house, by seven it was gone. I went outside for a look-see at what was going on. Things were looking pretty good for a trip to the lake. Even though it was still lightly raining and there was some thunder rolling around, the storms were dissipating, and the atmosphere was starting to stabilize. Hot dog! Time to boogie to the lake. I was on the water by nine and for a couple of hours the fishin’ was fine.
I could still hear distant thunder but nothing within at least twenty miles of me. However, I kept an eye on the horizon. About eleven the fish stopped biting like a switch had been flipped (missed clue number one). I figured that it was time to quit beating the banks and do a little trolling. After a quick re-rig, I was happily trolling along, going away from the dock where my truck was (mistake number one). An hour or so later the breeze which had been out of the south all evening suddenly died (missed clue number two). I was aware the something was building up, but I still didn’t see anything on the horizon, did I mention that all this time I hadn’t bothered to look straight up, thinking that any storms would come in from the south like they had all day? Well anyway there was ‘ol Wing just a putt-puttin’ up the lake while a thunderstorm was building up right over his silly head.
About this time I noticed that the temperature had dropped and the wind had picked up, but out of the north now, the opposite of the direction that it should have been blowing (ah ‘ol Wing finally pulled his head out and picked up a sign that there was a thunderstorm around). I had looked at the radar and the low-level winds before I had left and I knew that there were no fronts around so I started seriously looking around for the building thunderstorm. The only trouble was that the clouds had now hidden the moon so I couldn’t see much, did I mention that I still hadn’t bothered to look straight up? I thought that the clouds to the north looked darker than the rest so I started to relax thinking that if it were a thunderstorm building up to the north, it would be heading away from me. Just to be on the safe side, I decided in the interest of keeping my bum from getting fried that I had better start heading back to the dock. About the time that I got turned around, yep you got it, zaaaaaaapppppp…..kabooooom! Lighting hit the shore less than a quarter mile from me! Well that woke me up to say the least!
Just as I had everything reeled in and secured and was headed hail-bent-for-leather for the dock about five miles away then here came the rain. Have you ever been in a small metal boat zipping along at thirty miles an hour or so in a pouring rain with nothing to hide behind? Kinda feels like being a target for a couple of hundred B-B guns. I had gone about a mile or so when Ma Nature decided to teach me a lesson about lightning up close and personal. Several times lightning hit the water close enough to give me a tingle through the metal throttle handle! Daaaay-ummmm, it’s time to get off the water and find some shelter, like five minutes ago. The one thing that I think kept me from getting fried to a crispy crunch was a habit I have of taking note of empty boathouses. As I rounded a curve at full throttle and trimmed out for max speed, I knew that there was an empty boathouse just before the next curve. The drawback was that it was raining so hard that I had to back out of the throttle in order to see the shore. After what seemed like an hour, I spotted what I was looking for. Given the circumstances, I didn’t give a flying flip if the owners were home or not. As I came flying into the boathouse, lightning hit close enough for me to feel the tingle through my shoes! I came in waaaay to fast, hit reverse full throttle for a second to kill the momentum and jumped out onto their dock. At this lake, because of the boat traffic, every boathouse has a lift to raise the boats out of the water, or the wakes will pound them to pieces against the pilings.
I slid my boat onto the lift and hit the up button on the winch and jumped back into the boat to get rid of any connection between my fat ‘ol rump and the water. Me and the boat rode right up into the rafters before the winch stopped. Outside all hail was breaking loose, literally. As I watched golf-ball sized hail churning up the lake surface, lightning hit close enough to stun several fish swimming around near the boat house! After offering up a prayer of thanks, I just sat there watching Mother Nature throwing a temper-tantrum; I was amazed at the power being unleashed just a few feet away from me. After the storm had passed, I made record time back to the dock before another storm could catch me on the water. As if reinforce the lesson, as soon as I had changed, safely loaded up the boat and was heading home, I got the pleasure of watching another wild thunderstorm, this time from the safety of my Blazer. The lightning from this second storm was so intense that it reminded me of a strobe light. The flashes were so frequent and close that I had to stop because I had lost my night vision and couldn’t see the road between the flashes. Of course by the time I got home the storms had moved to the north, and there was nothing left at the house but a little thunder and some light rain.
Now looking back, I missed several clues that a thunderstorm was building close by. The fish suddenly stopped biting. The breeze, which had been steady all evening suddenly died down. And finally, the clue that I finally caught, a sudden reversal of the wind and a sudden temperature drop. Yes I had checked the weather forecast and the radar before I left, and had noticed the atmosphere had stabilized (the thunderstorms had been dying down and the build-ups were flattening out). BUT what I forgot was even though the atmosphere had stabilized, it hadn't changed. The air-mass was still very unstable and the upper level disturbance that had triggered the earlier thunderstorms was still over this part of the state. Not to mention that although I was watching the sky, I never looked straight up.
What did I do right? Well I did check the forecast and radar, and I kept a close watch on the sky (you can betcha bottom dollar that I’ll be looking straight up a lot more from now on), and although it took forever; I finally picked up on the clues that a thunderstorm was forming, and started to head back. My habit of noticing empty boathouses proved to be a lifesaver; however if the power had been out, the electric winch wouldn’t have worked and although the dock was made out of wood, I would have in all probability received a severe shock from that closest lightning strike. I also keep a change of clothes in the truck for just such an occasion, so I was warm and dry after I changed. From now on you can bet that I will be paying a lot closer attention to the clues that nature provides when the atmosphere is right for thunderstorms.
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