Waterspouts spotted on Lake Erie

Waterspouts are not a common sight on Lake Erie, especially not four at once.

According to the participants of the annual fishing day for local politicians aboard the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Lake Erie Research Vessel Argo, that is what happened near Dunkirk Wednesday.

Lake Erie Fisheries Manager Don Einhouse confirmed witnessing the rare sight along with others of the fishing trip.

“From my experience, they are not all that common on Lake Erie … and to see four is unusual,” he said.

Meteorologist Jim Mitchell with the National Weather Service in Buffalo also heard reports of waterspout sightings, but said it is difficult to see the phenomenon on radar.

“It happens so fast and they are very shallow, so it is tough to see waterspouts on radar. Usually we know if they occur based on the conditions,” Mitchell explained.

He said radar did show a shower did take place over the lake Wednesday afternoon, but the conditions were not prime for such an event.

“Waterspouts are caused by instability from the cold air meeting the warm water. Usually there has to be around 30 degrees of difference between the air and the water, which is why they are most common in early fall. Today’s conditions weren’t prime, with there only being less than 20 degrees difference between the air and lake temperatures,” he explained.

Mitchell warned that waterspouts can be dangerous to boaters, but pose little threat to those on land.

“They typically need the instability from the water to maintain their spin,” he added. “A waterspout does pose danger to those on the water. They are kind of like a very weak tornado on water in the sense that they are very narrow. A water spout could easily toss a boat and can have 50 to 100 miles per hour winds.”

Mitchell confirmed the vertical lines in the picture taken by a witness were in fact waterspouts.

“I see three spouts in this photo (two toward the middle and one on the right). The one on the far right has a nice spray ring observed near the water surface … you definitely don’t want to get caught up in that,” he said.