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A Severe Storm experience

A Severe Storm experience, as seen from the middle of Lake Carlyle!
By: Ralph, 4/4/2006

Wow! What a day!

Sunday April 2nd, 2006; All was fine at first, normal day windsurfing in gusty conditions varying from 8 to 20mph from the SSW. Harbor Lights was an option, but Larry and I went to Coles Creek betting on the SW that was forecast. We stayed in STL waiting to see if the wind was going to come. We checked the weather sites religiously, and eventually decided to go for it. I left STL around 3 and my girlfriend, Loraine came too.

Ralph windsurfing before the StormI rigged 5.3, and Larry 4.5. I went out on the Electron (260 - 88 ltrs) first, then the Bic Veloce (270 - 96 ltrs). After a few runs, Larry went in to change sails and got a call from his wife saying the sirens were going off in St. Louis and a strong storm cell was coming through - tornado warning, hail & damaging winds. I came in to change back to my small board, and Larry told me about the storms, and we agreed that we needed to stay close to shore.

From the National Weather Service:
02 April 2006 - Severe Thunderstorm Outbreak

A line of severe thunderstorms developed during the afternoon across Central Missouri and quickly raced east across Eastern Missouri and into Central Illinois spawning tornadoes and bringing damaging winds in excess of 70 mph to a large portion of the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. Over 200,000 people lost power during the height of the storm. In addition, hail ranging from pea to baseball size was observed.

During this event the National Weather Service in Saint Louis issued 65 warnings and received over a 160 severe weather reports. Two fatalities have been confirmed from this severe weather event in the St. Louis County Warning Area.

The storm produced 9 Tornados.

So off we went, a few runs all the ways across the lake! Stupid of us!!! But neither of us saw any lightning. Then the critical run, we got a good wind, and wanted to ride it as long as possible and stay on the plane, and that meant we went right to the shore on the West side. We gybed and started schlogging back. Then we saw it…

A big, dark crescent shaped cloud bank. Textbook storm cell. I tried to believe that this was just a dark cloud, and for a while it seemed that way… the calm before the storm was eerie. Larry and I were closer to the West coast, but wanted to get back to our cars, so we continued schlogging and when the nuclear blast hit, Larry was ahead of me, and I was right in the middle of the lake (see my GPS Track below).

Storm Cell 4/2/2006
Source: St. Louis Post Dispatch 4/4/06.

When the blast hit, I hung on for dear life as long as I could, knowing there was not going to be a let up. I also went as far upwind as I could. I would say I hung in there for 6-10 seconds. Then it was a white-out. The spray was about 6-8ft over the water, and it was impossible to see anything but the spray, 360 degrees. I had no idea where Larry was, and hoped he was ok.

It was scary, and I completely lost all orientation; had no idea where I was relative to Coles Creek, nor how fast I was drifting downwind. There were few options - sailing was not one of them, but ditching the rig and letting the wind push me the mile or two to shore seemed like a good one…

I hung on to the top of my rig, and let the storm drag me & my gear downwind. The initial blast subsided somewhat, but the wind was still pumping. I saw some lighter sky to the SW, so I figured I would just ride-out the storm.

I was scared of 2 things: 1. A tornado. 2. That it was going to take hours before I drifted to shore, and even then I would be very far downwind. It was scary to be somewhere in the middle of the lake, with no visibility, no shore to be seen anywhere, a gale of wind, and not knowing what was coming next!!!!

I did not know what Loraine would do, if she would call 911 and there would be a full on search & recovery mission, or what??? Or if I got to shore, what would I do then? Go inland and try and find a house, or go up to the shore until I got to Coles Creek, and hopefully Loraine and the car would still be there??? I figured it could take a couple of hours to drift to shore, and it would be well dark by then, adding to the complexity of the dangerous ordeal…

But that plan was cut short when the lightening started! I still did not know where I was on the lake, as the shoreline was still a blur due to the spray and rain. Then Loraine (my girlfriend) turned on the car lights, and you have no idea how good that felt! It was like light at the end of the tunnel! Turns out I was well upwind - the storm winds were out of the WSW: a 30 degree beneficial shift.

But now, I couldn't just drift and try and wait out the storm because of the lightening, so I had to try sailing. It wasn't easy, and I tried all sorts of positioning just to try and make progress downwind. Getting up on the board was not an option as the winds were far too strong, and I wouldn't last more that half a second up there.

Nothing was working, and the best thing was balancing on the board as much as possible and thereby increasing windage, and drifting downwind faster. I have never seen waves so big on Carlyle! It was amazing how fast they formed, how big they got, and how well structured they were!!!

Eventually the winds subsided somewhat and the base wind was probably down to the 30-35 mph range, I sailed in these 'holes' and finally made good progress towards shore, and in the direction that I remembered the light was coming from…

Now the biggest fear was from the lightning in the skies around me, I was terrified my mast and rig was a lightening rod and I was going to get flash-fried! The lightening seemed to be allot of cloud to cloud lightening, and I took what solace I could from that.

Then the nuclear blasts were replaced by strong wind, and even had some light holes for a while, and I was finally able to start sailing back to shore, and even felt confident enough that I wasn't going to get hit by lightening that I gybed downwind to go back out so as to be able to go ashore where we launched. I was never so glad to be back on dry land and even more to be at the launch spot - no 911 calls, so search teams, no hiking through forests - ohhhh Man! What a phenomenal relief!!!!!!!!!!!!

Larry was at the beach, kindly keeping Loraine company in his van. Larry got in quite a few minutes before I did and beached on the boat ramp attached to the parking lot to the south of where we launch.

This is the GPS track showing how the storm affected me:

Ralph's GPS track during the storm

You can see the Westbound track where Larry and I got a good run, and if the wind hadn't dropped due to the calm before the storm, we could have gotten back to our cars before the storm hit. But the schlogging was what put us in trouble's way!

So I rode out a severe storm on Lake Carlyle. It seemed like an hour long ordeal, but in fact it was only half that. But a half hour I never want to go through again! And I was lucky that there was not hail, nor a tornado, nor more lightning!!! I am angry with myself for taking that ride across the lake - that was one of the stupidest things I have done - especially when it was such a conscious decision. I think at times, I feared for my life as the only other time I felt like the way I did, was skydiving when my parachute lines were twisted, and I know that time, I thought I could die!!

After the stormAfter the storm.After de-rigging in the rain and changing, Loraine and I sat out the remainder of the rain, and as the storm was ending we saw rotation on the lake right in front of us. I do not know if it was the beginnings of a tornado as it was only at the water level, and not coming down from above, but rather spiraling upwards to a height of about 12 feet. It was very weak and only lasted for maybe 3 or 4 seconds, but was pretty cool!!

Behind the storm there was a great sunset, clear skies and a very gentle breeze. I finished packing up and securing my gear, and we went to the Legion Hall for burgers and to discuss what had just transpired. What a relief - life was back to normal... 



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