Waterspouts – not always just tornadoes on water


(WETM) – Waterspouts are always a fun topic, however, they are not as simple as they are often portrayed. Many would call a waterspout a “tornado on water” but they are much more complicated than that and just as serious as any severe weather phenomena.

There are two varieties of waterspouts, one significantly more dangerous than the other. Let’s start light with fair-weather waterspouts.

These short-lived spin-ups are usually not associated with any sort of convective system. They require some ingredients to happen, cold air over warm water, and wind shear. This temperature difference, along with the organizing help of wind shear, allows liquid water to form a funnel up from the water’s surface and into the cloud above. The fair-weather variety of waterspouts is much more common than tornadic waterspouts. This vortex is not sustainable without the water and when it moves over land, it will dissipate very quickly.

In this video, courtesy of John Kucko, you can see a small waterspout over Lake Ontario. Though this waterspout was associated with a storm that had recently passed. (that produced a monster we will discuss shortly) This waterspout is very close to the definition of a fair-weather waterspout.

The other variety is much more serious, anything with the word “tornado” in it will be. The tornadic waterspout is much rarer than the fair-weather type. Usually forming over land and then moving to the water, a tornadic waterspout is simply a tornado that happened to move over the water.

In this video, also taken by John Kucko, you can see a massive waterspout over Lake Ontario. The top of the video suggests a mesocyclone above driving this tornado. That is what this is, a tornado on Lake Ontario and if this had moved off the Lake, it would have likely continued as a tornado. However, in a more rare turn of events, this tornadic waterspout seemed to have formed on the water and stayed there. Thankfully, no one appeared to have been on the Lake, this would have been a very dangerous situation if someone was near this monster.

Locally, there is not much of a history of waterspouts. The Finger Lakes are large but not even close to the size of the Great Lakes, where they are documented at a significantly higher rate.

Waterspout on Cayuga Lake, January 21, 2014, Courtesy Finger Lakes Weather on Facebook.

In the photo above, courtesy of Finger Lakes Weather on Facebook, you can see a waterspout on Cayuga Lake. This was taken on January 21st, 2014 and the properties apply. Cold air over the warmer lake water allowed for this small, fair-weather waterspout to spin up. Sadly this is the only record that could be found of waterspouts on the Finger Lakes. The National Weather Service does not have any record of waterspouts on the Finger Lakes due to them being so short-lived and no one reporting them to the NWS.

If you happen to have any pictures of waterspouts on the Finger Lakes, please send them to AustinEvans@WETMTV.com as I would love to see them.

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