Michigan’s Waterspouts

Those that live on one of the four Great Lakes that surround the perimeter of the state of Michigan are used to the weather patterns that the lakes produce. Though not the most infamous weather condition like Michigan’s annual Lake Affect snow, waterspouts are fairly common in the late summer and early autumn months on the lakes. While Michigan coasts’ are prone to harboring waterspouts in the summer months with the natural occurrence of severe thunderstorms that normally produce tornadoes, Michigan appears more predisposed to large numbers of waterspouts during the early fall which are produced much differently than in the summer. For example the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded that “The period from 27 September to 3 October 2003 saw the largest waterspout outbreak over the Great Lakes in recorded history. In total, an unbelievable 66+ waterspouts were sighted! […] One confirmed waterspout even made it to land, causing some shoreline damage. The outbreak period was 7 days, making it the longest lasting event” (vos.noaa.gov).  The early fall months from about August to October are inherently prone to waterspouts due to the fact that this time of the year produces:

“cool air masses [that] overspread the waters of the Great Lakes.  Water temperature, air temperature, moisture, and wind speed in the lowest several thousand feet of the atmosphere are among the parameters forecasters assess when determining the likelihood of waterspouts. Waterspouts become favorable when water temperatures are warm, the air is cold and moist, and wind speeds are relatively light” (crh.noaa.gov).

Fortunately, fall-induced waterspouts are far less destructive as compared to their thunderstorm spawned cousins, with most waterspouts ranging from 10 to 300 feet/3 to 91 m in diameter, as opposed to tornadoes that can be up to a mile wide and  winds of 300 mph/483 kph or faster. However, though waterspouts are not as strong as their relative they still have the potential to cause severe damage especially to the maritime industry such as freighters, boaters, and those that live in coastal areas.




Megan Povenz


One response

  1. I think you chose quite an interesting topic and it’s pretty cool to view other sources of nature’s destruction beyond the obvious. Whenever I think of damaging storms or wind, tornadoes are definitely the first thing to come to mind. Little did I know, waterspouts were just chilling around Michigan this whole time. I can imagine that if you were out on a smaller boat or near the water’s edge when a spout occurred, it could be just as dangerous as any other form of natural hazard.

    John Arpino

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