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miketucker 09-15-2011 12:13 PM

Waterspouts on the Great Lakes
After a summer of sailing on Lake Ontario, I've gotten used to the 'Thunderstorm Warnings' issued by Environment Canada. Today was the first day I had a sail planned and came across a 'Waterspout Watch'. The forecast actually says 'A few waterspouts ending early this evening.' A few. As if it's 'a few showers'.

I did some reading, including some threads on SN about people who got caught by spouts, and had to change my trousers. Are you kidding me? Tornadoes popping up on the water while you're sailing? That sounds like my worst nightmare.

How common are these death spirals? How seriously should I take a 'Water Spout Watch' or a 'Water Spout Warning'? Does that mean stay at the dock, or just keep your eyes open while you're out on the water? Are they more likely to form near shore, or farther out on the lake, or does it not matter? Any Great Lakes sailors have any advice for me?



tommays 09-15-2011 12:40 PM

There were none this year BUT you can find plenty of youtube on Long Island waterspouts that chased people right into Northport and Oyster bay :)

sailortjk1 09-15-2011 01:14 PM

I have been sailing Lake Michigan for over thirty years and have never seen one. That does not mean not to take the warnings seriously. They do happen. Here is proof right outside of my home port.

Although rare, they do happen.

miketucker 09-15-2011 01:50 PM

sailortjk1, great picture!

So when you say to take the warnings/watches seriously, what exactly does that mean? Do you stay home those days? Or go out, but maintain a very vigilant watch on the clouds and water?


CalebD 09-15-2011 03:02 PM

We had one Weds. night race this summer when there was a tornado warning for our entire region (Hudson River valley, NY). The clouds were very threatening looking both to our north and south. We finished the race and went home. Our races do not take us much farther then a few miles from our mooring and the relative shelter of land.
News reports later revealed that a tornado had hit Springfield, MA destroying part of the town of Monson. It seems to be very difficult to predict the exact location that a tornado will hit but the forecasters seemed to know that all the elements needed for one were present. Some of the racers used their droids to pull up local radar information which revealed that the worst cloud formations went around us. I would keep a good lookout at the radar as well as just using common sense if you go out. Low, dark, ragged clouds would be reason enough for me to head for home.

remetau 09-15-2011 03:23 PM

2 Attachment(s)
Here is a spout that was right behind my boat at the dock in Marathon, FL. That is my boat in the foreground.

SHNOOL 09-15-2011 03:52 PM

Wow... only ever heard of these once. Father was overnighting on the boat on Lake Norman, and one came up at about 11pm. He said it was the most violent thunderstorm, and it came and went in a flash (thank god). Can't imagine sailing into one. Ugh.

centaursailor 09-15-2011 07:19 PM

Don,t see too many tornado,s here on East coast Ireland but waterspouts, known as "kettles", are common enough in Carlingford Lough were the mountains funnel the SW wind onto the lough in vicious blasts or Williwaw,s.
Safe sailing.

MC1 09-16-2011 12:18 PM

I've seen several waterspouts over the years on Lake Ontario and there's a number of Youtube videos showing them here as well. While typically not as strong as a land tornado, they can ruin your day and are to be respected. They seem to be more prevalent some years than others, and it seems like there may be more this year than other years recently. They occur when the water is warm but the air is cool and unstable. Any horizontal circulation in the air flow can start winding them up in these conditions.

Here's an interesting video of a waterspout toying with a large ship . . . Singapore Waterspout Plays With Boat - YouTube

SoftJazz 09-20-2011 01:51 PM

We get them here on Lake Erie & I've seen several at the same time. Last ones I saw was about a month ago (there were four of them sighted all total) & I decided, with the weather report & water conditions being what they were, to not go out sailing.

Best advice I can give you is to start learning to watch clouds. They tend to come from specific types of clouds & after a while, you just learn that "that doesn't look right". That last time I saw them, I was heading south toward the marina, kept watching that cloud formation & said that it looked like waterspout clouds. Maybe 20 minutes later, there they were.

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