August 11th, 2011 at 8:00 pm by under 4 Warn Weather

Waterspout over Lake Erie, August 10th, 2011 by Barb Frankiewicz at the Gateway Building in Hamburg

Yesterday our newsroom was flooded with pictures of a waterspout over Lake Erie.  A fairly common occurrence in late summer and early fall.  But what are they exactly and why do they occur?

Waterspouts, in short, are tornados over water.  There are two classifications; tornadic and fair-weather.  Tornadic waterspouts form due to a severe thunderstorm; they can be tornadoes over land and move onto water or form on the water.

Fair-weather waterspouts form at the surface of the water and build skyward.  These waterspouts are still dangerous for mariners and can capsize boats.  More common around the WNY area, fair-weather waterspouts typically develop in warm waters under cumulus clouds.  Relatively cooler air helps to generate waterspouts.  They often from where the air is converging, for example along the edge of a front or land breeze.  The converging air creates a favorable environment for upward air movement, allowing the spouts to spin up.  Typically short lived, these waterspouts have winds that rarely exceed 70 mph.

5 Responses to “Waterspouts”

  1. Jim Brown says:

    Amelia, Thanks so much for your quick response.

  2. lcs says:

    Amelia, thanks for reminding me how to spell “cumulus.” For me, it’s like never being able to pronounce a certain word correctly. A crisp 59 degrees under a bright, moonlit sky here in Alleg.Cty.

  3. Eric Telaak says:

    Thanks Amelia… I’ve learned something new! A calm 61 degrees here just outside the Village of Hamburg… Beautiful night as forecasted!

  4. lcs says:

    Wonder if these water spouts can be compared with our “dust devils?” These are little spouts swirling around on the grounds. I have witnessed several of them in the past.

  5. Amelia Segal says:

    Ics, I would say they are similar in the sense similar mesoscale features are involved; convergence, upward motion…

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