Tragedy Strikes The Dauphin Island Race


Understanding and managing the risk associated with thunderstorms is part of sailing and sailboat racing. While the consequences of severe weather on April 25, 2015 were tragic, strong wind gusts associated with thunderstorms and thunderstorm complexes are not uncommon. Two incidents that occurred at Andrews Air Force Base during the 1980s serve as an example of the remarkable winds associated with a downburst. The first, containing a gust of 113 knots (130 mph), occurred on August 1, 1983 just minutes after Air Force One (and the President) had touched down. In 1986, the second, and much stronger, downburst peaked at 137.3 knots (158 mph).

Figure 26: SPC Thunderstorm Wind Days per year 2003 to 2013. Click here for a larger version.

A review of storm reports from 2003 to 2012 (figure 26) indicates that thunderstorm wind gusts of 50 knots or more occur regularly across the Gulf Coast. While downdrafts may occasionally be quite strong and produce a surprising amount of damage, they are a natural part of a thunderstorm's life cycle.

Special Note: A complete meteorological timeline of the 2015 Dauphin Island Race referencing all of the relevent outlooks, forecasts, watches, warnings, and high wind observations can be downloaded here.

About The Author

Mark Thornton has been boating on the Great Lakes for more than 30 years. Mark recently transitioned from sailing and now owns Osprey, a Mainship 34 Pilot. He is a 2006 graduate of the Penn State University Certificate of Achievement in Weather Forecasting, a two-year program that develops skills in general, tropical, and severe weather forecasting.

He is the president of LakeErieWX LLC, a company dedicated to providing marine weather education and forecasting resources for recreational boaters ( Mark publishes a marine weather blog and teaches basic forecasting seminars to recreational boaters during the off-season. He has served as the Race Meteorologist for the Bayview Race to Mackinac since 2014. Mark is employed as a Teaching Assistant in the Certificate of Achievement in Weather Forecasting Program at Penn State University.

Click here to read about my marine weather forecasting seminars, webinars and presentations. Click here for the current schedule of educational programs.