Waterspouts were spotted around the time this sailboat was knocked off its lift near Baltimore. Photo: Deadrise Marine Photography

Multiple Waterspouts Spotted on Bay in Recent Days

It’s no surprise that thunderstorms and severe weather are cropping up several afternoons a week in the Chesapeake region. After all, ’tis the season. But multiple witnesses have spotted waterspouts in different parts of the Bay just since last weekend, prompting a reminder for boaters to stay vigilant when storms are predicted.

On Tuesday morning, sailor Tim Flaherty of Solomons, Md. captured photos of waterspouts off Cove Point. In a Facebook post he writes, “I saw at least three, and several tornados may have been shrouded by the rain on the Eastern Shore … The waterspouts were appearing in the vicinity of Barren Island and were moving north-northeast.

Apparent waterspouts cropped up Tuesday morning, visible from Cove Point. Photo: Tim Flaherty

Over the weekend, sailboat racer and photographer Mark Hergan learned the hard way that summer storms can cause unexpected damage. On his Deadrise Marine Photography Instagram page, Hergan shared a photo of his sailboat, tilting dangerously from its lift on Bear Creek off the Patapsco River.

He writes, “I was on my way to Oxford last night to photograph the Oxford Regatta this weekend when I received a message saying my 4,000-pound Soverel 27 Morning Star was no longer sitting on her lift. She was leaning over about 40 degrees and had a piling poking a hole in her side.”

Hergan’s neighbor from three houses over, who alerted him to the alarming issue, told him that “the sky quickly turned black around 6pm and two water spouts touch down next to my boat and quickly spun out the creek before disappearing. He said it was the worst weather he had ever witnessed on the creek.”

Hergan was lucky the boat managed to stay on the lift at all. As he describes it, “[the boat] was leaning over about 40 degrees and had a piling poking a hole in her side. Her rig was caught on the masthead of the sailboat on the other side of the dock and her 1,800-pound keel was just floating in the air. All her jack stands were in their normal positions but just two were holding the boat up and were starting to bend and twist under the load.”

Over the past week, special marine warnings and flash flood warnings with three inches of localized rainfall have been almost an everyday occurrence in the National Weather Service Baltimore-Washington region. Maryland Natural Resources Police even dedicated a Facebook post to reminding Maryland boaters to “always keep an eye to the sky.”

“Be sure to check the forecast before leaving shore and remain watchful for signs of inclement weather,” marine police write. In addition to wind and rain, the possibility of waterspouts should be a serious consideration.

Chesapeake Bay Magazine recently covered the increasingly well-documented waterspouts of the Bay, which only seem more frequent than they used to be because people are capturing them with cell phone cameras.

These weather events on the water need to be taken seriously, experts say.

As  Richmond’ Channel 6 chief meteorologist Zach Daniel Richmond told CBM, “We’re often talking about tornadic activity associated with strong thunderstorms,” Daniel explains. “These supercells can produce waterspouts, or they can form tornadoes over land that then move across the water without losing much of their strength.”

The National Weather Service gives the following advice for any boater who finds himself or herself face to face with a waterspout:

  • If you spot a waterspout, seek safe harbor immediately.  
  • Avoid the waterspout by traveling at right angles to its apparent direction of movement.
  • If a collision is likely, take down sails, secure loose items, close hatches, and go below deck if possible.  
  • Under no circumstances should a boater try to navigate through a waterspout.

Meg Walburn Viviano