Satellite images give lie to claim that Branson storm ‘came out of nowhere’

Weather forecasts and remote sensing imagery show that the Branson duck boat tragedy was avoidable

Satellite imagery shows development of severe thunderstorms in southwest Missouri on July 19, 2918. In early evening, tragedy struck in Branson, Missouri

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows the development of severe thunderstorms in southwest Missouri on July 19, 2918. Note: The animation may take a little time to load after you click on the screenshot above. (Source: RAMMB/CIRA)

The duck boat tragedy in Branson, Missouri, was made all the more horrible by the fact that it was completely avoidable.

While Jim Pattison Jr., president of the company that owns Ride the Ducks Branson, claimed the storm “came out of nowhere,” nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, a severe thunderstorm watch had been issued by the National Weather Service at 11:20 a.m. Central time, nearly eight hours before the sinking. The watch stated that winds could gust to 75 miles per hour.

In the animation above of GOES-16 weather satellite images, you can see the stormy weather already developing at 18:00 UTC, or 1 p.m. Central time.

Then, at least a half hour before the tragedy, the weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Table Rock Lake, site of the sinking. A ‘warning’ means severe weather is imminent or already occurring, and people in the affected area should seek safe shelter immediately.

As it turned out, the vicious  thunderstorm outflow gusts that sank the boat were clocked at 63 miles per hour.

As Mike Smith, a retired meteorologist with AccuWeather put it in a blog post:

. . . this indirect blaming of meteorologists was old a decade ago and is completely inappropriate in this particular situation.

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows the intensification of thunderstorms over southwestern Missouri beginning an hour before the tragedy in Branson. (Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

An animation of GOES-16 weather satellite images shows the intensification of thunderstorms over southwestern Missouri beginning an hour before the tragedy in Branson. (Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

The animation of weather satellite imagery above provides a more detailed view of thunderstorm intensification in the hour leading up to the sinking of the duck boat.

It starts with a major thunderstorm cell to the north and west. Then, at about 00:18:00 UTC — 7:18 p.m. Central time — a new thunderstorm cell is seen boiling up through the remnants of a previous one, just northeast of Branson. Seven minutes later, it is located near the part of Rock Lake where the boat went down. (Between Branson West Airport, marked ‘KFWB’ in the screenshot above, and Branson Airport, marked ‘KBBG.’)

Deadly thunderstorm cell over Branson

GOES-16 image acquired at 00:25 UTC, or 7:25 p.m. Central time. (Source: CIMSS Satellite Blog)

Here’s a still image showing the thunderstorm cell just about at the moment that the boat went down.

Before I go, I want to give a shout out to Scott Bachmeier and the other amazing folks at the Satellite Blog of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies. This still image and the animation above it came from there.

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