Maria Quilan Leiby, Michigan Historical MuseumLook12
A waterspout over Lake Michigan. Photo courtesy of the International Centre for Waterspout Research.
Waterspouts represent an intriguing sidebar to the Michigan weather story. It’s a sidebar that’s worth a look, as we move into waterspout season on the Great Lakes.
“Look a Lot Like Tornadoes”
Waterspouts look a lot like tornadoes in photos and videos, but only some waterspouts are really “tornadoes over water.” Sometimes a true tornado forms over land before heading over the water and becoming a waterspout.
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Continue clicking on the image to view it at a larger size.
The majority of waterspouts on the Great Lakes are like the other lake effects we see in Michigan: they result from temperature differences between the water, and the air or nearby land. The National Weather Service usually predicts waterspout activity when water temperatures are warm, the air is cool and moist, and winds are relatively light. That is most likely to be the case in late summer and early fall when the lakes are at their warmest, but we can get blasts of colder air.
Meteorologists, led by the International Centre for Waterspout Research, are just beginning to track waterspouts closely and to predict them. The Centre counted a new record of 154 waterspouts for the Great Lakes in 2012. When observers on Lake Ontario logged a single day global record of sixty-seven last October, Centre director Wade Szilagi said there had probably been even more that simply weren’t seen or recorded.