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Slow forecasting played a part in Md. water taxi capsize

AUG. 20 — The National Weather Service last Thursday released the findings of an internal review that says forecasters were using only limited radar information March 6, 2004, and were slow in detecting a storm during which a water taxi in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor capsized. Five people died in the accident.

The report says that meteorologists in the Sterling, Va., office, which services the Washington-Baltimore region, met “established requirements,” but adds that “with better access to additional observational data, and a more aggressive and efficient analysis of evolving weather conditions, it is likely forecasters would have increased their concern for thunderstorm development and associated high winds.”

Seaport Taxi’s 36-foot pontoon boat, Lady D, had set off from its Fort McHenry dock shortly before 4 p.m. on a one-mile tourist run across the Patapsco River, from Locust Point in South Baltimore to Fells Point in East Baltimore. As the boat was making a turn, carrying a full load of 25 passengers, it was hit broadside with a gust that exceeded 50 mph and capsized, according to reports. The National Weather Service reportedly didn’t issue a “special marine warning” until 4:05 p.m.

WeatherBug, an Internet-based weather reporting service, reportedly recorded a 41-mph gust in Frederick, Md., at 3:07 p.m. and a 52-mph gust in nearby Ellicot City at 3:43 p.m.

Seaport Taxi ceased operations in November 2004 after its parent company, the non-profit Living Classrooms Foundation, settled for an undisclosed amount a $17 million lawsuit filed against it by families of the victims.

The accident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Jason Fell