Weather Wonders

How To Know When To Get Off The Lake

By Lenny Rudow

A healthy dose of modern technology applied at the boat ramp can mean you'll never wonder about the weather again.

Photo of a storm over open water

For her 12th birthday, my daughter asked me for a present I was ecstatic to give: a daddy-daughter fishing trip at St. Mary's Lake. But our enthusiasm took a hit when checking the weather forecast the night before, which foretold of a 50-percent chance of rain showers throughout the day. Undeterred at five o'clock in the morning, we hitched our 14-foot reservoir runner and made the two-hour trek down the road. And although it wasn't raining when we arrived at the boat ramp, we sat in the truck and waited. Ten minutes later, the downpour began — but armed with modern technology, I knew we could wait out this bad weather.

Photo of Weatherbug Elite Storm Tracker for iPhone
The Weatherbug Elite Storm Tracker is available for iPhone (shown here) or Android phones. This app provides alerts and warnings of potential bad weather based on your location, using the phone's GPS sensor.

After a few minutes, the clouds broke, we launched our boat, and had one of the most pleasant mornings afloat that either of us could remember. Until, that is, the rain returned. Fortunately, by the time that liquid sunshine was dropping again, we were back in the truck, warm and dry, snacking on chips and pretzels while we had a friendly argument over who'd caught the most crappie, bass, and pickerel. But we didn't call it a day. Once again, I knew the rain would be short-lived so we stayed and waited. And within half an hour, we were back out on the lake, trying to out-cast and out-catch one another.

The secret to my weather-predicting prowess? It's no secret at all — in fact, chances are, the main ingredient is in your pocket or hanging on your belt at this very moment. Thanks to modern smartphones, all it takes is a good weather app to become an accurate on-the-spot forecaster. Choose the right one, and you'll never again stand at the boat ramp and wonder if you really should launch; you'll never again stare at those dark clouds from the middle of the lake and wonder if you need to run for shelter. You'll know the answer, for sure.

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Other Options for Instant Weather Data

You say you don't have a smartphone? It's really time to move out of that cave, and join the rest of the real world. Until then, the lack of a pocket communicator can be partially filled with these other instant weather data options.

  • Satellite Weather — Sirius/XM satellite radio also broadcasts weather data, and if you have a modern chartplotter at the helm, getting it on-screen is as easy as mounting a receiver ($100 to $500 depending on brand) and paying the monthly activation fee (which ranges from about $13/month to $50/month, depending on what level of service you choose). This will get you all of the info the best apps provide, and overlay the animations right on your chartplotter's screen. If you don't have a chartplotter on your boat but you do have a Sirius/XM-capable radio, you can tune in to one of the dozen weather stations, and receive weather warnings and alerts.
  • Lightning Detectors — There are several handheld, portable lightning detectors on the market, and although these won't keep you dry or out of the wind, they could prevent tragedy. An inexpensive option is the $80 StrikeAlert (, which lights up an LED whenever lightning strikes within 40 miles. The blinking light tells you if the strike was 20 to 40, 12 to 24, six to 12, or within six miles.lerts.
  • Another choice is the $175 SkyScan (, which displays a rising column of light to tell you the distance of a strike. It breaks down the distance into smaller increments, detects out to 40 miles, and the manufacturer claims it's accurate 97 percent of the time to within one to two miles.


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