Why So Many Waterspouts in the Great Lakes?

September 26, 2012; 5:02 AM
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Twitter user @jojoluvs18 took this photo of a waterspout over Lake Erie.

There have been dozens of sightings of waterspouts on the Great Lakes over the past several weeks. While waterspouts are a common occurrence across the lakes this time of year, their frequency this year is unprecedented.

Photos: Awesome Waterspout Photos From the Weekend

A record 154 waterspouts have been sighted on the Great Lakes, meteorologist Wade Szilagyi told NBC News on Monday. Szilagyi is head of Canada's International Centre for Waterspout Research. Records have been kept by the Canadian research service since 1994.

So why has this year been so extraordinary? AccuWeather.com meteorologists believe one important factor is at work.

Warm Summer, Warm Lakes

Waterspouts are short-lived tornadolike funnels that form over water due in part to tremendous differences in temperatures well up the atmosphere and on the water surface.

They are commonplace this time of year as cooler air masses move over the warm Great Lakes, where water temperatures are usually at their peak following the summer months.

As anyone who lives in the region can attest to, it was a hot summer, enough so to break records.

Lake water temperatures are several degrees above normal from the summer warmth, currently as high as 70 degrees in shallow Lake Erie.

Combine that with near-record chilly blasts flowing over the lakes since the first week of the month and you have a bonafide recipe for scores of waterspouts, and a plausible explanation for the new record.

More to Come?

While a natural balancing act between air and water temperatures tends to take place rather quickly as we head deeper into the autumn months, waterspouts are typical deep into October.

Twitter user @Budd1983 took this photo of a waterspout near Elyria, Ohio.

Over the next several weeks however, the AccuWeather.com Long Range forecasting team expects less frequent and less severe chilly snaps as a milder pattern takes hold across the eastern half of the country through early October.

Instead of dozens of waterspouts on the cooler days in the Great Lakes, reports of them should become more sparse over the coming weeks.

Waterspouts are often awe-inspiring when viewed from a safe place onshore, but sometimes they can be destructive.

Mariners should always treat every waterspout seriously since they can easily toss about vessels like toys. Rarely, significant damage can occur if they move inland.

AccuWeather.com has compiled some of the best photos and videos from social media of waterspouts this past weekend in the Great Lakes. If you have any cool shots, be sure to pass them along on our Twitter or Facebook accounts.


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