I've been checking the radar images on my computer since 3:00 this morning, watching patches of green turn yellow and sometimes red as they move from northeast Massachusetts through coastal New Hampshire right towards Phippsburg, Maine. A 4:30 phone call with my anglers based over in Sebasco allowed us to delay our departure while we waited for the last cell to pass to our north and east.
I'll gladly fish in any weather that's safe. Twenty years ago I was a bit more brazen about going out in thunderstorms. After all, I had never been on a boat struck by lightning and had been through enough squalls to feel confidant that I could find quick shelter from sudden, strong winds. I don't know if I'm just older or actually smarter, but my attitude towards thunderstorms has changed.
When Gordon and I led trips for Hebron Academy we would reflect on our enormous responsibility; parents and school trusting us with the care and well being of teenagers a days paddle or snowshoe from a place to call for assistance. We weren't control freaks, nervous Nellie's, or fraidy cats but we were always assessing risks (it helps to have an attorney along with you when you're contemplating risk). I was always clear with myself that I would do everything possible to be sure that my group wouldn't end up in a situation that would land us on the front page of the Lewiston Sun or in a teaser for the channel six evening news. We knew that experiencing the out of doors, fully, and with adolescents, involved risks and that despite all of the training, preparation, gear and best judgment accidents do happen. We just wanted to know that we had done everything possible to avoid mishap and that if (god forbid) we ever ended up having to call a parent with news of an injury or answer questions on the stand we could say with certainty that we played to the highest standards.
LL Bean is a very careful company in both product and policy (which is why my wife will wear Bean's Gore-tex jackets but not their sweaters or dress slacks and it's why the company survives the lean times in the retail market). I continue to be amazed at the thoroughness of their risk assessment and I only see a tiny sliver of it as it relates to classes and trips that we lead in the Outdoor Discovery School. Teaching fly casting on a Freeport lawn with a piece of yarn tethered to tippet is about as safe an outdoor activity that you can find. Our safety protocols are significant and exceed the standards ( 30/30 Rule) set forth by NOAA and other government agencies. At the first sign of thunder (not lightning) we immediately head indoors and remain there for thirty minutes after the last sign of thunder (not lightning).
According to the National Weather Service Lightning Safety page, lightning kills more people in the U.S. every year than tornadoes and hurricanes combined. It is highly unpredictable and more people are struck before and after the peak of the thunderstorm.
A forecast calling for a chance of thunderstorms doesn't keep me off the water. If I used that standard I'd miss out on a third of July and August and be sitting home on perfectly safe days. I rely on reading the doppler radar images available online, listening to NOAA weather radio on the VHF and watching the sky to stay in touch with whats happening around us and what's headed our way. For many seasons I would call in to Sarah to get updates on the radar images. She's become very skilled at reading the screen...
"Okay, there's a large cell tracking northeast of Sebago Lake that looks like it will pass north of Augusta within 30 minutes and then the next group is along a northwest to southeast line that stretches from Keene, NH to Southeastern MA. It is mostly yellow on the leading edge but there are areas blossoming into red as it tracks our way. Watching the loop, I'm guessing that it will be here in three hours at the soonest. Nothing preceding it right now. All green just behind the front, so if you hole up at the Kennebec Tavern around noon and go in for lunch you should be able to fish in the drizzle after it passes but check back with me in a bit for an update"
Now I almost never say (or think, Dear) that "I've trained my wife to...", but I will brag about her ability to read the radar images and load the boat into the trailer. These days I can access the images directly on my iphone, so the calls are a fond memory.
Last cell has almost reached us. Time to hop in the truck, wait at the ramp, check the radar on the phone and then go fish.
Capt. Peter Fallon