Tuesday, July 31, 2018

President Trump: You Have Made an Outstanding Choice for Your White House Science Advisor

The news came out a few minutes ago that President Trump has named Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier of the University of Oklahoma to be the White House Science Advisor. The President has made an outstanding choice.

I have known Kelvin for decades and he is one of the most innovative scientists in our nation. He understands how to take science theory and turn it into something useful. The Administration will be well-served by this addition.

Dr. Droegemeier's nomination will have to be confirmed by the Senate. The Democrats need to stop holding up Barry Myers' nomination to be the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and they need to confirm Kelvin quickly. Both will provide excellent service to our nation. 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Beauty Under a Gust Front

Gust Front Passing Over the Smith House
As a result of the Duck Boats sinking at Table Rock Lake and the loss of seventeen precious lives, we've talked a lot about gust fronts the past ten days.

A gust front just passed my home in Wichita (dot). You can see the radar image below.
So, I took my camera to the back yard, pointed it south southeast and grabbed some rather nice images. The sun was setting and the diffused lighting produced an orangish tinge to the turbulent underside of the gust front.

The photos below are my two favorites. Enjoy!

Climate Alarmists: Be Careful What You Wish For!

Ripening Kansas Wheat 
Right now, the world's farmers are producing enough food to feed the entire world*. That may not continue if Big Climate gets its way. From a new peer-reviewed paper in Nature:
click to enlarge
"A robust finding is that by 2050, stringent climate mitigation policy, if implemented evenly across all sectors and regions, would have a greater negative impact on global hunger and food consumption than the direct effects of climate change."

Much of what is advocated by Big Climate is about political power rather than helping ordinary people. They keep putting the cart before the horse: climate science does not know the ideal average global temperature for humanity. There is a very good chance that current or even warmer temperatures are better for humanity when the good and bad effects are netted out.

*Yes, there are hungry people but that is due to corrupt politics or faulty distribution.

Worst Floods in U.S. History

Up until now, I've never seen a list of U.S. floods ranked by number of fatalities. USA Today has created a list and here it is.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sunday Snake Story

Timber rattlesnakes are quite dangerous. However, snakes cannot hear so shouting at them does no good.

Based on my Boy Scouts experience, I would have used a paddle to divert the snake as it approached. I also would have not have stood up on what appeared to be a small boat. If you capsize the boat, you have two big problems!

The 2011 Joplin Tornado - Another Southwest Missouri Catastrophe

For the last ten days, America has focused its attention on Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri. The Duck Boat tragedy could easily have been prevented by heeding the severe thunderstorm warning that was issued 30-minutes before the sinking. Seventeen precious lives would have been saved.

But, what if the warning system didn't exist or worked poorly? How many boats would sink each year? How many people would be killed by hurricanes and tornadoes?

Seven years ago, again in southwest Missouri, the warning system failed to work as designed as a tornado approached the City of Joplin. The result was a catastrophic 161 deaths -- the worst single-tornado death toll since the civilian warning system began in the 1950's.
I wrote When the Sirens Were Silent to document that tragedy in hopes it would never happen again. Here are excepts of two recent reviews, both written by meteorologists who are knowledgeable about the warning system:

’Silent” is a must have for all people with even a tiny interest in severe weather. The author, Mike Smith, meteorologist and scientist investigates the catastrophic failure of the public weather warning system before and during the giant tornado that swept through Joplin, MO on May 22, 2011.

Mike also includes riveting stories of those that survived and those that didn’t. His definitive examination of all the moving parts in the warning system is hard hitting and he spares no area deserving blame. This book is quite refreshing as it forces transparency to a life shattering event that many times would not easily be available to the public.

With all of the high tech hardware and software developed in the years prior to the Joplin tornado, this system failure should not have happened. The author explains the the event and rupture of the safety net in a fashion where the reader feels like he or she was present in Joplin on the 22nd of May 2011, a very dark day indeed. And amazingly such a collapse in the warning system has already happened again. In 2018, an EF3 tornado hit Eureka, Kansas with no severe weather watch in effect and no tornado warning in effect.

This book is very timely and it hosts the warning signals of a potential problem with our weather warning system.

Gary England, July 16, 2018.

When the Sirens Were Silent" is the gripping story of the Joplin tornado. It recounts that horrible day with a goal of insuring this does not happen again. The book gives you the tools you need to keep yourself and your family safe. Included are clever lift-out copies of the latest tornado safety rules for homes, schools, and offices.”
Fabius Maximus Blog, December, 2017. Full review here.

The book includes detailed tornado safety suggestions for work, for school and for home.

While the warning system worked very well the evening of Thursday, July 19, prior to the Duck Boat tragedy, but it is been showing cracks recently. I'm compiling information on that topic and I'll be writing about that soon.

In the meantime, if you would like to read the story of the Joplin tornado, here is a link to its Amazon site.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Outrage! We Are Being Tracked By the TSA

Here's No Surprise: We're all being tracked by the TSA.
click to enlarge
Here's some of the 'suspicious' behavior they track:
Which, of course, makes my wife a terrorist. Sheesh.

Thanks to the Boston Globe for publishing this story.

As I have said many times, while President Bush made a bunch of mistakes, his biggest was going along with Congressional Democrats and setting up the Department of Homeland (I hate the name "homeland") Security and the TSA.

While President Trump has government more conservatively than I expected, he is not giving much indication he is concerned about the privacy of the public and this clearly unconstitutional program.

NTSB Confirms: Someone With the Duck Boat Company Was Looking at Weather Radar

Yesterday, the NTSB released information from the voice recorded on the duck boat that sunk. Here is the pertinent passage:
click to enlarge
I believe the gust front, which doesn't show up on most non-professional radar displays, played a role in this disaster. Details were posted last week. Click here to read my story about gust fronts.

An Interesting Point

Tragedy From the Northern California Fire

click to enlarge

"Russiagate Explained"

I have spent a lot of time on this issue. The above cartoon is essentially correct.

Friday, July 27, 2018

NTSB on the Table Rock Lake Duck Boat Tragedy

The NTSB has confirmed what we strongly suspected. The crew of the sunken duck boat knew of the dangerous weather approach before they put out for the lake. Details are here.

So Much For Global Warming Making Hurricanes Worse

As world temperatures have risen, the number of hurricanes hitting the United States has decreased. You may recall that, after Katrina (2005), we heard over and over how hurricanes were going to get worse. Another global warming theory shot down.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

So Much For Global Warming Causing Tornadoes to Get Worse

click to enlarge
A number of scientists, for years, have believed that global warming would cause tornadoes to worsen.

Here is the latest data (2018) is incomplete. While tornado season is over, a strong tornado or two could still occur. That said,
≥EF-3 tornadoes are the worst; the most violent tornadoes. Yet, they have been declining since the 1950's. The decline has accelerated since the 1970's.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Fetch Bistro

If you watched Gordon Ramsay's 24 Hours to Hell and Back this evening, it was about Fetch Bistro in my neighborhood in Wichita.

I dined with a friend there for lunch Saturday. It was the first visit for both of us. I had the bistro burger (which Ramsay taught them to make) and my friend had the chicken, biscuits and gravy. I loved my burger and he liked his meal.

Unfortunately, that is where the good things ended. The service was terrible. The dogs were so scattered throughout the restaurant, you couldn't walk directly to your table. Stranger's dogs were pushing their snouts on top of the table and watched while we ate. While I am, admittedly, not a "dog person" that was not appetizing to either of us. They also have Pepsi products.

Neither of us plan to return. Perhaps if you are a "dog person" you'd enjoy it.

There Was "Reportedly" a Storm Warning??


I don't understand why the news media is having such trouble wrapping its collective head around the fact the National Weather Service did a fine job on the watch and warning applicable to Table Rock Lake at the time of the Duck Boat sinking.

For example, today's Wichita Eagle states, "So are questions about decisions to take the boat into the water despite reported warnings from the National Weather Service of an impending storm." The Kansas City Star used the same wording. There is nothing "reported" about it.

Here is the watch, issued more than seven and a half hours before, calling for 75 mph winds.

And, here is the warning issued more than 35 minutes before:
and please note that both Table Rock Lake and Branson are explicitly mentioned as are winds of 60 mph. A few minutes later, before the tragedy, the forecast winds were upped to 70 mph.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, the wind on the lake was 73 mph. The watch and warning were accurate and timely.

The question isn't whether there were good storm warnings, the real question is why weren't the warnings needed?

Addition, 3:35pm CDT, Wednesday
George's tweets (reproduced with permission) are typical of the coverage of the disaster the last couple of days. This is highly unfortunate.

Also highly unfortunate is the media's typical "there was no warning" in stories after just about every major tornado, severe thunderstorm or flash flood. The fact there usually was a warning is not reported or buried after meteorologists demand a correction.

I believe that the media's treatment of disasters aggravates the issue of warning credibility. More on that, here.

As to "35 minutes isn't very much time for a warning," some would argue it is too much time regarding a warning for the public-at-large. If there is too much "lead time" (the interval between the warning being received and the arrival of the storm), the warning loses its urgency. People get in their cars causing traffic jams. People get caught outside and injured when, for example, their backyard trampoline goes airborne.

Meteorologists agree that more time is needed for precautions such as bringing that trampoline in. That is the purpose of severe thunderstorm and tornado watches (see above for the Table Rock Lake tragedy).

Commercial boating operations should have a commercial weather company watching the weather for them so they can get the types of warnings (eg, the National Weather Service does not issue lightning warnings) and amounts of lead time they need. 

Addition, 5:25pm Wednesday, July 25.
Here is another pertinent posting from Twitter.
Yes, there was plenty of warning if those at Table Rock Lake had been paying attention that awful evening.

No One Cares About Global Warming


I get in big trouble with my fellow atmospheric scientists every time I say that, "No one cares about global warming. Some used to care but they don't anymore because because the issue has been 'oversold'."

There is a new Gallup survey, taken this month, indicates exactly that: no one cares about global warming. Details are here.

I've bumped this because of MSNBC's Chris Hayes' comments yesterday about global warming coverage. I'll post those for you to view and then make a few more comments below.

 "Ratings killer" to MSNBC's liberal-leaning audience = no one cares about global warming.

As I have previously written, it might be that global warming is a dire problem. However, the people who have been hectoring us for the last quarter century have been so dishonest and unethical that the rest of us have been completely turned off to the subject.

My personal opinion is that it is a mild to moderate (net) problem that can largely be dealt with through adaption. Spending literally trillions as those same advocates demand is unnecessary. However, I remain open-minded.

What Sea Level Rise?

More papers are being published that cast doubt on global warming-related sea level rise. In this case, beaches are growing, not shrinking. This is a fiercely contested area of global warming science. I am unconvinced that either side has convincing argument.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

You Can Tell It Is Political Season....

...because our landline is ringing off the wall. We have Nomorobo (I highly recommend it) which stops the 785-area code calls (Topeka) and the 202-area code calls (Washington, DC) as well as the vast majority of scam calls.

Nevertheless, the phone still rings one time before Nomorobo cuts it off. Why? "I thought there was a national Do Not Call List that keeps those calls from getting through?", you say. Politicians have exempted themselves from the "Do Not Call" list (of course). If 785/202 area codes are accurate measures, we had eight political calls in a single day last week.

I wonder why politicians believe p-ssing people off in their homes is a good way to get votes?

Just did a little research: While President Trump has recorded calls for others this election season, a search of "Donald Trump robo calls during 2016 campaign" on Google and Duck Duck Go reveals that few of those calls were made by the Trump campaign. At our home, I believe we got one Hillary call and I do not believe we received any Trump calls (of course, some of these calls may have been cut off).

It has been said many times that Trump ran an "unconventional campaign." This article says,

THERE'S A WAY TO WIN A modern campaign, conventional wisdom goes. Start out by raising pots of money, both to seed your early campaigning and to scare off would-be challengers. Hire a team of seasoned (and well-paid) professionals – strategists who can tell you where and when to campaign, ad makers who can produce sophisticated TV spots and tell you when to air them, and pollsters who can micro-target the groups of voters you will need to build a winning base of support. Make sure you have a millennial-friendly website, too, with links to events and volunteer opportunities, in English and Spanish, to attract Latino voters.

Hillary Clinton did all of that. And she lost anyway. Meanwhile, Donald Trump ran a defiantly anti-professional campaign, heavily driven by his own, politically inexperienced strategy and favoring big, boisterous rallies over classic get-out-the-vote activities.
Perhaps an insight of now-President Trump's was that calling people in their homes, often during dinner, no longer works.

Monday, July 23, 2018

If You Have Found The Coverage of the Table Rock Disaster...

...to have been interesting and informative, I'd like to modestly recommend my book, Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather
I believe the reviews at the Amazon site (at link, above) speak for themselves. A Kansas emergency manager contacted me this morning to talk about the recent disasters and wrote,
Unrelated note. I received your Warnings book on my birthday last Friday. My chores went unfinished, but the book wasn't. Amazing work. 
There is a bit of a glitch at Amazon in that one of the third party sellers has put its name above the "buy" buttons.
I'm nearly certain that if you use the "1-Click" button it will come from Amazon and it will receive free "Prime" shipping. Or, you can order from Barnes & Noble, here. Or, you can buy it from your local bookseller.

Book sales are always appreciated! This blog has no advertising because I want our readers to focus on the content and not be distracted by ads.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Family of Nine That Survived and Survivor's Guilt

The Kansas City Star has a story tonight about a family of nine that survived the duck boat disaster.

The article mentions that the family is suffering from survivor's guilt. I strongly suspect the other survivors are, as well. It is difficult not to in a catastrophe like Thursday evening's.

While those who made it off the Stretch Boat 07 alive are obvious candidates for survivor's guilt, there are others: all of the first responders and perhaps those who were on duty at the Springfield office of the National Weather Service. The NWS did a great job. No need for guilt. But, that is not the way it usually works.

After the 1991 Wichita-Andover Tornado, the meteorologists on-duty at WeatherData, Inc. had terrible cases of survivor's guilt, myself included. There was no reason for it; we did our job to near-perfection (including a national award from the American Meteorological Society). But, there was a strong sense of, "if I'd have gone on the air just one more time" or "if I had phrased this differently maybe those killed would have taken shelter." Seventeen were killed in that tornado, the same number killed on Table Rock Lake Thursday evening.

I got over it by talking at length with an ER nurse at Wichita's Wesley Hospital who also had survivor's guilt after treating people who were horribly maimed by the tornado's flying debris. It takes some years to get over it.

I'm writing this so you will keep all of the people who may be affected in your prayers. If you live in southwest Missouri, please offer your words of encouragement. They will be appreciated far more than you'll ever know.

There is a good article about survivor's guilt here.

Sunday Photo: Amazing Photo of Rotating Thunderstorm

For the eleven years of this blog, we have tried to lighten the mood on Sundays. After the Thursday tornadoes in Iowa and the derecho in Kansas and Missouri (the latter which led to the Table Rock Lake tragedy) let's write about something else.

Via Twitter, this is one of the most amazing thunderstorm photos I have ever seen. Click to enlarge it.

Nautical and Aviation Malpractice?

On June 5, I wrote about an American Airlines crew that flew into a hailstorm over New Mexico. Their action put their passengers in serious jeopardy. That posting, titled "Aeronautical Malpractice?", is here.

I believe it is pertinent to repost that report in light of what happened at Table Rock Lake Thursday. Why aren't indications of dangerous storms being taken seriously?

Saturday, July 21, 2018

"No Weather Advisories Interrupted the Program"

I have been reading R. A. Scotti's wonderful book, Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938, which is the story of the devastating hurricane that struck New England completely without warning. From pages 85 and 86,

In inland towns and cities, where the weather did not dictate the day’s activities, radios were tuned into CBS Studio Nine. Correspondent William Shirer was reporting from Berlin that Hitler had just won his first slice of Czechoslovakia. At eleven o’clock, under intense pressure from Britain and France to concede or fight alone, the Czechs had capitulated. Was it “peace in our time,” or “base betrayal”? CBS correspondent Ed Murrow was standing by in London for a live broadcast with Anthony Eden.

No weather advisories interrupted the program. 

The exact death toll from that storm is not known but it is believed to be around 800. The hurricane's storm surge caused water in downtown Providence, Rhode Island, to rise to a depth of 17 feet.
I imagine the grieving family and friends of those killed by the Great Hurricane wished there had been an effective storm warning system that would have allowed them to protect themselves, their families and their communities.

Fast forward eighty years. Weather scientists in the United States have developed the finest storm warning system in the world. It is not perfect (I plan to write more about that in the next few weeks) but most of the time it works well.
One of the Duck Boats foundering on
Table Rock Lake Thursday evening
Screen capture from video by Jennie P. Carr
The system to warn of dangerous weather at Table Rock Lake, Missouri, worked as it was supposed to Thursday. A NWS severe thunderstorm watch -- that explicitly forecasted winds of 75 mph -- flashed across television screens, set off NOAA Weather Radios, and triggered smartphone apps eight hours before the sinking. There was a severe thunderstorm warning calling for 60 mph winds issued by the NWS office in Springfield more than thirty minutes before the sinking. There was also an update to the severe thunderstorm warning that increased the forecast winds to 70 mph before the sinking occurred. Those messages also triggered smartphone apps, television, radio, NOAA Weather Radios and other outlets for storm warnings.

As I wrote below, businesses that are affected by weather should hire a commercial weather company that specializes in warning of extreme weather. While I cannot speak for the others, AccuWeather Enterprise solutions explicitly warned its clients at Table Rock Lake of winds of "70+mph" in plenty of time to take action.

I'm certain 100% the people involved in the "ducks" tragedy, if they had it to do over, would have inquired as to whether there were any warnings of dangerous weather and, once so informed, they would never have launched the duck boats.

But, the question is, "Why weren't Thursday's 
warnings heeded?"

Just hours prior to the catastrophe at Table Rock, there were weather warning success stories. For example, Marshalltown, Iowa, suffered a damaging EF-3 tornado that affected the entire city. The advance warnings -- 50 minutes' worth -- almost certainly saved lives. In the pre-warning era, that type of tornado would likely have killed dozens. The death toll Thursday was zero.

In spite of the successful warning of the three major 2017 hurricanes to strike the United States, the incredibly accurate forecasts of the extraordinary flooding associated with Hurricane Harvey, and tornado warnings in Iowa Thursday, weather science does not receive the respect it has earned and, consequently, too many people fail to respect and act upon the warnings. Why??

It was this very question, in the months after Hurricane Katrina (which killed 1800 people) -- and the utterly unfair criticism of the storm warnings -- that caused me to write my first book, Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather. The book was published in 2010. We chose the title because we thought it was vital to get the point across that, while we have not conquered the weather, we have unquestionably tamed it. In Warnings I discuss how the once-frequent downburst-related airline crashes have ceased, how hurricanes are forecast with incredible accuracy and how tornado warnings are made. While it is not discussed in the book, I imagine that, with effective warnings, the Great Hurricane of 1938's death toll would probably have been in the double digits, not 800.

Pictures like the ones below (via the Kansas City Star) affect meteorologists greatly.

Whenever one of these tragedies occurs, meteorologists view images like these and wonder about the lives lost and the anguish friends and families of the victims are suffering. Because we want to prevent this to the maximum extent the science will allow, weather science has been teaming up with social science since 2011 to attempt to better communicate the threats so that more people will heed these warnings. I fervently hope it is successful but I am starting to have doubts...

I had thought that smartphone apps would make a tremendous difference in the behavior of people who have received warnings. The apps work well as evidenced by the tweet. It was tweeted during the Iowa tornado outbreak just hours before the Table Rock catastrophe.
With the smartphone apps like AccuWeather's, false alarms are significantly reduced. It keeps track of your location and, as in Ms. Hanley's case, it alerts you if you are moving into danger or if the storms are moving toward your location. No more countywide storm warnings that don't apply to the user's location.

Yet even with the revolutionary step-up in accuracy and specificity of smart phones and television storm warning systems, too often storm warnings are treated like a curiosity and not something to be acted upon. That usually changes if the user "confirms the threat" (in the words of social scientists) such as by looking out the window and seeing a dark cloud. But if the sky appears to be unthreatening, too often a warning is not acted on. I've wondered if that was the issue Thursday.

Based on media reports, literally no one at the lake seemed to be aware of the threat before the boats left land. [Please see addition below] I checked the weather observations at the Branson airport 20 minutes before the sinking and the weather would have been described as "partly cloudy." The satellite image clearly shows there was still sunshine.

The terrain around Table Rock Lake is rolling hills. Unless they were looking, they probably didn't see the gust front/shelf cloud rapidy approaching -- the line of storms was moving southeast at 50 mph -- from the north.
Table Rock Lake
So, I am speculating (please note that word) that sunshine at 6:32pm Thursday cancelled out, in the minds of many, the warning of imminent dangerous weather. 

Even though we have social scientists working with meteorologists, I do not know how we go about ratcheting up the credibility of storm warnings so they are acted upon regardless of how cloudy the sky happens to be when the warning is received. It seems to me that is the key question going forward. Storm warnings are useless unless they are acted upon. Thursday evening demonstrates we still have a lot of work to do.
ADDITION, 9:50PM Saturday:
It turns out my speculation was correct. Some were aware of the warning and it did not cause them to stay off the water. Below are excepts from a just-published article by the Kansas City Star:  

Friday, July 20, 2018

A "Gust Front" Kills Again

I cannot say this strongly enough: Non-meteorologists should never use radar for mission critical purposes. And, yes, this includes law enforcement officials, 
emergency management and others.

While we certainly do not yet have all of the facts, we know the winds behind a "gust front" played a role in yesterday's tragedy on Table Rock Lake in which 17 perished. We also know that a gust front played a major role in the collapse of the stage at the Indianapolis State Fair on August 13, 2011, in which seven were killed and 58 injured. Some of those injuries were catastrophic.

I want to take a moment to review the similarities between the two tragedies to help illustrate why non-meteorologists should never use radar for mission-critical purposes.

The Appearance of a Gust Front
The appearance of the Indianapolis and Table Rock gust fronts were very similar.

Table Rock Lake

As a gust front (a/k/a squall line or shelf cloud) approaches it will usually have an appearance like the one below.
An approaching cloud of that nature means strong, possibly damaging, winds are approaching and that you should get to cover immediately. Note the visibility under the gust front is good. While there are times heavy rains occur immediately after the gust front passes, there is often some amount of time (seconds or minutes) between the gust front and the rain.

Radar Appearance
This is one of many reasons the public should not use radar for mission critical situations. In Indianapolis, the fair officials were "playing meteorologist" and trying to interpret radar to make critical decisions. The issue is that gust fronts can be extremely difficult to correctly interpret.

A thin blue line. What could be dangerous about that?

Table Rock Lake
In this case, you can barely see the blue line. But, it heralded the winds that caused the duck boat to sink.

But, here is the catch. Many gust fronts are harmless. We have one moving toward my home in Wichita right now.

In addition to gust fronts being difficult for the non-meteorologist to interpret, many radar displays smooth them out.
click to enlarge
The Weather Channel's radar presentation (left) smooths out the gust front. RadarScope's (a professional level product) radar presentation (at the same time) shows the gust front well (arrows).

The company from which I retired on March 31, AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions, has clients in the area of Table Rock and provided advance warnings of 70+mph winds yesterday. Commercial weather companies should be used when lives or substantial property is at stake.

While it is fine to use radar to decide whether to mow the lawn,
I cannot say this strongly enough: Non-meteorologists should never use radar for mission critical purposes. And, yes, this includes law enforcement, emergency management and others.


What Is the Hottest Time of Year Where You Live?

In southwest Texas, the hottest time of year is early June. In California? September.
click to enlarge

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Tragedy at Table Rock Lake

Updated at 11:10am CDT Friday
Late Evening Photo of the Search and Rescue Operation at Table Rock Lake
Photo: Springfield "News-Leader"
Seventeen people have been killed and seven injured (two in critical condition) after a boat capsized at Table Rock Lake between 7 and 7:20 Thursday evening. This information is according to the Springfield News-Leader. There were 31 passengers on a "Ride the Ducks" tourist boat. Table Rock Lake is near Branson, Missouri.

Below is a video of conditions on the lake. It shows boats in the high winds and waves. It does not show the sinking.

There is poor contrast because they are shooting through a window. However, at the beginning of the video you can see an image of the cloud base. That is the gust front (see radar image below). That is further confirmed by the fact it is not raining heavily. It appears the video was looking west because of the bright skies (the sun would have been in the W to WNW sky at that time).

The Branson Airport reported a wind gust of 63 mph. When the line went through Springfield (upper part of image), it produced at gust of 74 mph at their airport. A witness said the winds were 80 mph with five foot waves as the line of storms moved across the lake. The first call to 9-1-1 came in at 7:09pm according to a just-concluded news conference. However, the sheriff didn't know whether that was a distress call or whether it was a report of the boat sinking. From the video, you can see the two duck boats were in distress for a while before the sinking occurred.

Below is the type of radar display you see on television. I've circled the general area of the sinking. This was a case where there were strong winds ahead of the heavy rain. The winds were behind what is called a "gust front." It appears as a thin, irregular blue line (arrows). There were also intense winds with the heavy rain (yellow and red) when it arrived which would have decreased visibility to very low values.
click to enlarge
Below is a Doppler wind measurement from the Springfield NWS WSR-88D radar (top). The report of 80 mph winds seems very plausible. The tan tones are generally winds of 65 mph or higher. I've highlighted an area of 78 mph winds.

Below is the satellite image of the area at 7:17pm which is around the time of the sinking. Timing is extrapolated and based on the "Local Storm Reports" from the NWS in Springfield.
All of this information is preliminary but there is little doubt the weather played a role in this tragedy.

This is the severe thunderstorm warning in effect at the time of the sinking. 
The NWS issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Table Rock Lake was issued at least 35minutes before the incident occurred.

The owner of the duck boats is being quoted as saying the storm "came out of nowhere." Actually, a severe thunderstorm watch for the area -- which called for wind gusts of 75 mph (see below) -- was issued at 11:20am. Nearly eight hours before the tragedy.

A severe thunderstorm watch eight hours in advance combined with a severe thunderstorm warning 40 minutes before does not equal a storm that comes out of nowhere.

I have intentionally avoided speculating about blame because neither I, nor anyone else at this point, has all of the facts. That said, this indirect blaming of meteorologists was old a decade ago and is completely inappropriate in this particular situation.