From the Boathouse: Beware hurricane-force conditions on West Coast

Ahoy, and welcome to a preseason hurricane!

Good friend, airline captain and fellow Lake Arrowhead Yacht Club member Jeff Diercksmeier begins his article in the yacht club's newsletter with "from the flight deck."

Very appropriate, since I am sure he writes his article at 30,000 feet while on autopilot, but I will not tell the FAA. However, Diercksmeier can share in the importance that hurricane season starts Saturday, because the season's storms will affect his navigational plans in the air as well as my navigational plans on the water.

However, Mother Nature did not look at the calendar, because we had the first hurricane of the season, or preseason, on Wednesday. Tropical Storm Barbara developed into a hurricane with wind speeds up to 75 mph.

Barbara is moving toward southern Mexico, and rains have caused flooding in the small towns. This hurricane will lose strength when it hits the coast, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's predicted path shows the storm may pop out in the Gulf of Mexico.

I am noticing that many familiar yachts have returned from their wintertime playgrounds in Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta and other foreign harbors to our south. Luckily, these boats are home just in time to miss the preseason hurricane.

Insurance companies mark the beginning and the end of the hurricane season, and vessels remaining in a hurricane zone during the season may push up the boats' insurance rates. However, boat owners are usually worried about potential damage to their yachts.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released this year's hurricane predication. I purposely spelled out NOAA because recently I asked boaters on the dock, "What does NOAA abbreviate?" Almost everyone's answer was incorrect, and I was surprised. So next week I am thinking about asking people, "What do the letters in NASA reference?"

I digress.

NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is predicting an active or extremely active season in the Atlantic. Remember, most hurricanes form in the Atlantic and travel across the ocean to the Eastern Seaboard, through the Gulf of Mexico and over land into the Pacific. Furthermore, the tropical cyclones are low-pressure systems that spin counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

The center is predicting 13 to 20 named storms. Not all named storms are hurricanes, since some are tropical storms with wind speeds below hurricane force. However, seven to 11 of the named storms are predicted to build into hurricanes, with three to six major storms expected to develop. Keep in mind that not every tropical storm or hurricane will reach land, but circular winds reach miles out from the storm's eye.

The winds, rains and lightning do affect airline travel, ship movements, oil derrick operations and building structures in coastal areas. Luckily, we are protected from hurricanes coming north up our coast, unlike on the East Coast, because our water temperatures are too low for the storms to maintain the energy derived from warmer waters.

Southern California's summertime ocean temperature is usually in the high 60s to low 70s, and hurricanes need water temperatures greater than 80 to form and maintain strength. The strength of the hurricane will quickly weaken in the colder waters or when it goes over land lacking the warm waters from the ocean.

We still feel the side effects in Southern California from some hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico or the ones that have crossed over southern Mexico or Central America or formed into the Pacific. The storms bring us humidity, clouds and a chance of rain with thunderstorms.

If you see lightning developing while boating, cancel your voyage if possible by returning to your mooring or trailer; even those cruising inside the harbor should take heed. Boats have been hit by lightning, sustaining major damage.

Of course, sailboats are extremely dangerous, with the mast, rigging and bonding system resembling a lightning rod. The boat's electronics are very susceptible to the increased flow of ions in the atmosphere, and the components will be turned into paperweights if a strike hits nearby.

So turn off all your electronics if safe and feasible until the storm has passed and the sound of thunder is fading in the distance.

Tip of the week: Download a weather app on your smart phone, and check the weather, sea conditions and tidal data before you leave the dock. This applies to harbors and lakes as well, because we have all seen what can happen when a good day of boating turns ugly because of weather.

Please be boat smart and boat safe. Lastly, please boat responsively and look behind you before the turn the wheel at the helm.

Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, "Boathouse Radio Show," broadcasting live coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network. See times at, and

Safe voyages!

MIKE WHITEHEAD is a boating columnist for the Daily Pilot. Send marine-related thoughts and story suggestions to or go to

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