Waterspout Sunday in Store for the Great Lakes

By Brian Edwards, Meteorologist
September 23, 2012; 3:12 PM ET
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A large waterspout forms above the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Fla., on Friday afternoon, June 26, 2009. The spout dissipated as it reached the other side of the river. The Fuller Warren Bridge is seen in the foreground. (AP Photo/The Florida Times-Union, Will Dickey)

Boaters and photographers should be on the alert for Great Lakes waterspouts Sunday.

The potential for seeing a waterspout exists across all of the Great Lakes from Lake Superior to Lake Ontario on Sunday.

Much cooler air will move in behind a departing cold front over the warm waters of the Great Lakes. At the same time, a puddle of chilly air will form high above the surface in the upper levels of the atmosphere.

According to AccuWeather.com Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams, "These conditions often lead to heavy snow squalls during the winter. When they occur during the late summer and fall, occasionally, waterspouts can form."

The flow of cool air into the zone of warm, moist, rising air over the lake can cause small areas of rotation. As these swirls rise and tighten, a waterspout can form.

Lake water temperatures are in the lower 60s to near 70 degrees and the air passing over the Great Lakes, dipping to the upper 20s and lower 30s during the morning, will be cool enough to allow moisture to gather just above the surface.

According to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "Waterspouts are essentially weak, short-lived tornadoes over water. However, they do not need an intense thunderstorm to form. In fact, most form in an entirely different manner, compared to tornadoes."

While mostly a threat to small craft, occasionally they can wander onshore before dissipating, causing minor property damage. They often have the strength equivalent of an EF0 tornado.

The visible funnel is mostly caused by the condensation of the moisture due to the low pressure within the storm and not so much by surface water being drawn upward.

Regardless of whether or not waterspouts form, widespread showers and a few thunderstorms will affect the Great Lakes and areas downwind.

Cities such as Erie, Pa., Buffalo, N.Y., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Marquette, Mich., will be in store for a chilly, unsettled end to the weekend.

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