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.
Why so many this year?
Waterspouts are common 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 Great Lakes knows, it was a hot summer.
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 recipe for waterspouts, and a plausible explanation for the new record.
What is a waterspout?
Waterspouts fall into two categories: fair weather waterspouts and tornadic waterspouts.
Tornadic waterspouts are tornadoes that form over water, or move from land to water. They have the same characteristics as a land tornado. They are associated with severe thunderstorms, and are often accompanied by high winds and seas, large hail, and frequent dangerous lightning.
Fair weather waterspouts usually form along the dark flat base of a line of developing cumulus clouds. This type of waterspout is generally not associated with thunderstorms. While tornadic waterspouts develop downward in a thunderstorm, a fair weather waterspout develops on the surface of the water and works its way upward. By the time the funnel is visible, a fair weather waterspout is near maturity. Fair weather waterspouts form in light wind conditions so they normally move very little.
If a waterspout moves onshore, the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning, as some of them can cause significant damage and injuries to people. Typically, fair weather waterspouts dissipate rapidly when they make landfall, and rarely reach far inland.