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Old 07-06-2020, 09:11 PM   #1
CanisLupusArctos
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Default Thunderstorms visible from afar

As I write this (Monday evening, 6 July) there is an anvil-shaped cloud visible to the southwest of Lake Winnipesaukee. An experienced boater, pilot, farmer, or outdoorsperson should know that's a thunderstorm with some decent energy inside it, a high-topped cumulonimbus. The weather at the lake has been sunny and benign all day long.

Satellite and radar imagery indicate the nearest tall cumulonimbus cloud to the southwest of Lake Winnipesaukee is in the Springfield, MA area. The "current alerts" map says the National Weather Service has a severe thunderstorm warning and a flash flood warning in effect there. It's no threat to the lake, but the massive cloud responsible for that mayhem (clips of insurance commercials come to mind) is tall enough to be clearly visible from Lake Winnipesaukee right now.

The eastern U.S. is well-known among storm chasers to have an obstructed view thanks to trees and buildings everywhere, and as a result most chasers won't come to this part of the country. Lakes like Winnipesaukee are large enough to provide a Great Plains-style view of significant weather that can extend 100 miles or more, depending on the altitude of that weather and the condition of the air.

Last night a severe-warned thunderstorm over I-89 hit Concord and moved into the seacoast region, and its lightning pulsed high over Lake Winnipesaukee the entire time. It made no thunder, because sound waves fade completely after a few miles, but the cloud-to-cloud pulses of electricity were vivid in the southern sky. It looked threatening, but the absence of thunder meant it was too far off to be a hazard at the Big Lake. One look at radar, satellite, and NWS alerts images confirmed that.

Sometimes, well after sunset, the lightning from tall thunderstorms over the Canadian border or the Gulf of Maine makes a nice (benign) light show in the unobstructed vantage points on and around Lake Winnipesaukee, just as it does for storm chasers and other observers on the wide-open Great Plains. Think of lightning in the same way as a camera flash: How far away is it noticeable in daylight? At dusk your cell phone's camera flash might get your next-door neighbor's attention, and at midnight it can put enough light through his bedroom window to wake him up.

Similarly, a flashing cloud that's 40,000 feet tall can light up the ground underneath for 100+ miles during the overnight hours. It can also light up the air around it for a much greater distance when there's a lot of humidity, because that consists of tiny water droplets suspended in the air and each one acts as a diffuser. Ask any professional photographer about that effect. Perhaps you've noticed that some cover the flash with wax paper and bounce the light off a white ceiling or umbrella.

Hence, we have the term "heat lightning." It's ordinary lightning from a thunderstorm -- heat doesn't cause lightning at all. Hot weather in the eastern U.S. usually comes with high humidity -- ideal conditions for seeing distant lightning flashes at night. Wherever that lightning is, it's an arc of electricity between one point and another, but raindrops and humidity in the air produce the same effect as a photographer's wax-paper flash cover.

If you're a boater, it's good to know about weather. In this age of handheld computers it's just as good to bookmark local radar, satellite, and alerts imagery for referencing when you see something on the horizon. It's popular advice that a good time on the water isn't worth risking your life, but if you know when you can safely remain on the water to enjoy a view of natural phenomena, those are the moments we tend to remember fondly years later.

Last edited by CanisLupusArctos; 07-06-2020 at 09:53 PM.
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Old 07-06-2020, 10:54 PM   #2
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Sitting here in central Florida, I can watch thunderstorms over either coast. Of course, I rather have them over me, but you can't always get what you want.

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Old 07-06-2020, 10:59 PM   #3
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Default Very true

When I had my boat(s), if there was a forecast of severe weather, my wife and I kept a keen eye on the water, both at home before leaving and then again when on the water. We would always put the map in motion to see which way it was traveling.

A few years back, we were watching a line of storms that appear to be tracking "north of the notches". We decided we would go out Alton Bay and anchor in Robert's Cove. We got out there and set the anchor. I was about to open the bimini when I noticed that I could no longer see the NW end of the Ossipees. A quick check of our radar app showed the track had turned SE and was bearing down on the lake. Up came the anchor and we hightailed it for the dock. Made it with about 5 minutes to spare.

T storms will often follow ground based terrain features: rivers, large lakes, and mountains. I love to watch cumulus clouds start to build, climbing up to as high as 60,000 ft above the ground. The top starts to flatten out, forming the anvil. Beautiful to watch, but can turn dangerous in short order.

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Old 07-07-2020, 06:49 AM   #4
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Default Wow! What Hit Us?

Last Thursday, July 2nd, a late afternoon squall hit our area on East Bear Island in a matter of minutes. I felt a breeze getting stronger while at the back of our cottage. I decided to go down to the dock to check on the boat. In less than four minutes, a violet wind, and nearly three foot waves were hitting our north breakwater. I got soaked from the splash of the waves while securing the boat's lines and canvas curtains. Boats out on the lake were caught in this fast moving event. I did not hear about any problems caused by this squall. Ten minutes later, the water was nearly calm again. 🐻
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Old 07-07-2020, 07:14 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barney Bear View Post
Last Thursday, July 2nd, a late afternoon squall hit our area on East Bear Island in a matter of minutes. I felt a breeze getting stronger while at the back of our cottage. I decided to go down to the dock to check on the boat. In less than four minutes, a violet wind, and nearly three foot waves were hitting our north breakwater. I got soaked from the splash of the waves while securing the boat's lines and canvas curtains. Boats out on the lake were caught in this fast moving event. I did not hear about any problems caused by this squall. Ten minutes later, the water was nearly calm again.
We got caught in that with the in-laws, coming back from a day at the sandbar. Just outside our cove, I checked the radar and figured on about 45 minutes. The kids water to take one last plunge, so we floated for a bit. It only took 15 minutes for that squall to come in! Beaching the 'toon between l with 6" of space on each side with the full bimini up in that wind was fun!

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Old 07-07-2020, 07:53 AM   #6
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It's strange the last few days we have gotten our weather from the East.
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