Tragedy on Mobile Bay

Published on April 27th, 2015

Fairhope, AL (April 27, 2015) – The search continued today for people missing in the waters of Mobile Bay after a storm hit the annual 18nm Dauphin Island Race on April 25, capsizing boats and pitching sailors overboard Saturday. The race was hosted by Fairhope Yacht Club, located near Mobile, AL.

Two people have been confirmed dead, while four people remain missing. A fifth person originally feared missing was found safe at his home on Sunday night. Not all of the missing individuals were racing in the regatta, with some having been on the water at the time of the incident.

Captain Duke Walker, U.S. Coast Guard Sector Mobile commander, said 10 boats were capsized or incapacitated when the storm hit around 4:30 p.m. Saturday. Three of those were registered in the regatta, which had 119 entrants (correction: 123 entrants) from keelboats to catamarans. Waves near 10 feet and winds near 60 miles per hour were reported during the storm.

The abrupt weather conditions were uncommon for this time of year but their possibility was forecast days in advance.

Jason Beaman, warning-coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mobile, said the storm began as a “strong disturbance in the atmosphere” over Texas and Louisiana Saturday morning but moved suddenly east in the early afternoon, colliding with a “highly unstable atmosphere” for coastal Alabama.

“When you woke up that morning, you noticed it was very humid for this time of year,” Beaman said, adding, “Those were the ingredients in place for a strong line of thunderstorms to develop from the west.”

Specifically, he said, a bow echo formed as the squall line moved into Mobile County and across the bay, and “it became most organized over the bay as it moved into Baldwin County.”

A bow echo indicates on radar a strong signature for enhanced winds, and Beaman said it is so called because it “bulges out” and resembles an archer’s bow.

“These can be severe, and in this case it was,” he said.

Meanwhile, Beaman said the NWS began advertising the threat of severe weather four days prior to Saturday’s sailboat race and issued graphical forecasts highlighting the potential as the weekend approached.

A thunderstorm watch for all of southern Alabama, including Mobile Bay, was issued around 9:15 a.m. Saturday, alerting all residents in the affected areas to remain vigilant of rapidly changing conditions, he said.

For additional updates by Alabama Media Group, click here.

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