Sunset Waterspout

Sunset Waterspout, photo by Kyler Phillips

The National Weather Service in Gaylord has a page on the Science of Waterspouts that says in part:

Dr. Joseph Golden, a distinguished waterspout authority with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), defines the waterspout as a “funnel which contains an intense vortex, sometimes destructive, of small horizontal extent and which occurs over a body of water.” The belief that a waterspout is nothing more than a tornado over water is only partially true. The fact is, depending on how they form, waterspouts come in two types: tornadic and fair weather.

Tornadic waterspouts generally begin as true tornadoes over land in association with a thunderstorm, and then move out over the water. They can be large and are capable of considerable destruction. Fair weather waterspouts, on the other hand, form only over open water. They develop at the surface of the water and climb skyward in association with warm water temperatures and high humidity in the lowest several thousand feet of the atmosphere. They are usually small, relatively brief, and less dangerous. The fair weather variety of waterspout is much more common than the tornadic.

Waterspouts occur most frequently in northern Michigan during the months of August, September, and October, when the waters of the Great Lakes are near their warmest levels of the year. Waterspout formation typically occurs when cold air moves across the Great Lakes and results in large temperature differences between the warm water and the overriding cold air. They tend to last from about two to twenty minutes, and move along at speeds of 10 to 15 knots.

Kyler caught this spout when checking out the storm front last Monday evening. View the photo bigger and follow Kyler on Instagram at KingKPhil.

Cold Air Waterspouts

Cold Air Funnel Cloud III

Cold Air Waterspouts, photos by Debbie Maglothin

If you live along the Great Lakes, chances are you’ve seen a waterspout from time to time. While waterspouts are typically formed when cold air moves over warm water in late summer or early fall, occasionally the reverse can happen.

Debbie Maglothin took several photos of cold air waterspouts over Lake Michigan off the Ludington State Park beach. WZZM 13 meteorologist Alana Nehring explains how they form:

A drastic temperature difference between the air an water is required. In the most recent event, water temperatures were near 32 degrees while air temperatures were closer to 10 degrees.

A steady breeze needs to be present to jump-start the process of evaporation.

In most cases, this is also how lake-effect snow is produced but in some unique situations, a slight twisting motion will occur in the steam above the water. If it is maintained long enough, eventually weak funnels will develop.

Click the pics to view them bigger and follow Debbie on Facebook at Cha Bella Photography.

Cold Air Funnel Cloud II Cold Air Funnel Cloud

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Waterspout at Muskegon State Park

Lake-Michigan-Waterspout Muskegon Beach

Waterspout at Muskegon State Park, photo by Joe Gee Photography

Summer of 2015 has definitely featured some wild weather. Photographer Joe Gee captured this dramatic photo last Monday at Muskegon State Park. mLive featured Joe’s waterspout photo along with an explanation of the phenomenon by meteorologist Mark Torregrossa:

This is the waterspout season on the Great Lakes, but tonight’s waterspout did not occur in the classic waterspout weather pattern.

Waterspouts form mostly due to a large temperature difference between the water surface and the air a few thousand feet above. So the classic waterspout weather pattern would have a large, cold upper level storm system moving over the Great Lakes. That storm system is still well to our west, and won’t pass through until Wednesday.

This waterspout still most likely formed due to a temperature difference between the water and the air. The cold air aloft wasn’t really detectable because it was so isolated.

The other weather feature probably contributing to the development of this waterspout was a lake breeze or even possibly an “outflow boundary” from another storm. The lake breeze blows a different wind direction into the storm and can cause additional rotation. An outflow boundary coming off another thunderstorm can do the same thing.

So this waterspout is a less threatening rotation as compared to a tornado. Usually these waterspouts dissipate before they come onshore.

This time of year is the typical time for waterspouts because of two weather features. First, the Great Lakes water temperatures are usually warmest right now. Secondly, we have to mention the word fall. Cooler, fall-like air starts to move in at this time of year. The temperature difference is largest now through September.

You can purchase a print right here and follow Joe and his work at joegeephotography.com and on Facebook.

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