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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest > General Discussion (sailing related) > Waterspouts on the Great Lakes
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Thread: Waterspouts on the Great Lakes Reply to Thread
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Topic Review (Newest First)
09-21-2011 09:35 PM
SailingJackson
Waterspout on Lake Michigan

I cannot speak to the frequency, but I have been sailing toward one.

It was years ago, on my first sailing trip in my recently purchased 23' boat, and I was about to set out on my longest passage ever, 20 miles across the top of the Bay of Green Bay to Big Bay de Noc and Fayette. We were worried about the run across open water and a highly experienced sailor at the dock was going to make the same trip and offered that we follow him. Following him out of the bay, we saw the waterspout about 2 miles off to the north. I called him on the VHF and asked if that was what I thought it was. He called back and said "You can go on if you like, I'm turning around". Back at the dock he told us that he had been a freighter captain for 10 years and never seen a waterspout before.

GJ
09-20-2011 05:14 PM
Stearmandriver I lived in IL for 33 years, and worked with the NWS as a volunteer severe weather chaser/spotter for a lot of that time.

I've never dealt with waterspouts in a sailing context, but I'm familiar enough with them to think that I wouldn't want to. The winds can approach (rarely even exceed) 100mph. They aren't usually that strong, but certainly have the potential to be dangerous. Another thing to consider about them is that in the lower levels of the circulation, they're usually full of water. An impact from even a weaker waterspout could hurt, when you consider you're being hit by not just strong winds, but a swirling wall of water. Lot of weight, equaling a lot of force, behind that. It's like how a real tornado becomes much more damaging once it's already impacted something and is then full of swirling debris.

Waterspouts form by a different mechanism than tornados. Real tornados, spawned by supercell thunderstorms, can form or move over water too of course. I think I'd take a waterspout over even a weak supercellular tornado, since a true tornado comes with lots of other hazards, like low-level inflow jets, rear-flank downdraft wrapping around the back of the wall cloud etc.
09-20-2011 04:33 PM
ImASonOfaSailor Yes Lake Erie last year there was race from Lake Erie Pa. to, Buffalo and someone in the race got caught and had his powspirt broken off! He was really mad but i woul dhave thought you could see them.. I never saw one yet but pictures look very scary!
09-20-2011 02:51 PM
SoftJazz 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.
09-16-2011 01:18 PM
MC1 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
09-15-2011 08:19 PM
centaursailor 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.
09-15-2011 04:52 PM
SHNOOL 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.
09-15-2011 04:23 PM
remetau Here is a spout that was right behind my boat at the dock in Marathon, FL. That is my boat in the foreground.
09-15-2011 04:02 PM
CalebD 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.
09-15-2011 02:50 PM
miketucker 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?

Mike
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