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September 07, 2020     Post 117
Fall Winds and Weather

The Log has been dormant during this busy summer but I’m back at the keyboard now. I will be posting more excerpts from a work in progress, “A Natural History of Lake Ontario”. This book is planned by Arcadia/History Press for publication in 2021. Stay tuned this fall and winter for more on this and other writing on Lake Ontario including a collaboration on a full color book of photos by an outstanding professional photographer/beach comber.

Lake Effect:

It’s that time again. The big annual cool down has begun on lake and land alike. Now, as the days shorten, the lake’s warm waters are releasing moisture to masses of colder air moving over it to form those lake effect clouds and gloomy skies so familiar to south shore residents. When August moves on into September the lake’s heat energy causes localized rain squalls and showers and even waterspouts. Their strange ephemeral funnel clouds sometimes appear on chilly mornings as they march across the water.

A few weeks ago in late August an “outbreak” occurred over a four day period when observers logged dozens of reports of waterspouts on Huron, Erie and Ontario with the International Center for Water Spout Research website. The Center takes reports photos and videos from ‘citizen scientists’ as part of its effort to improve forecasting of these short lived but potentially damaging aquatic tornadoes. Some of the observers have posted fascinating videos of the waterspouts that can be seen on the organization’s Facebook Page.

We were out with our 23 foot sailboat in late August on a brisk day of NNE winds heading back to our home port from Oswego when we saw a black cloud to the leeward of us sprout an appendage that enlarged and eventually reached down to form a tapered spout shape. Luckily it was moving away from us and the cloud mass disintegrated as soon as it reached land. The whole process of formation and dissipation took place over just a few minutes. We were very glad it was not headed towards us!

Great Lakes water spouts can generate 70 mile an hour winds, more than enough to shred sails or dismast boats. I heard of one making landfall at a shoreline campground near Fair Haven some years ago that picked up a trailer and moved it fifteen feet. Most Lake Ontario waterspouts are short lived, rarely lasting more than half an hour. They move along at perhaps ten to fifteen knots so pose little danger to a motor boat. The tendril like funnel that a full blown spout develops is not formed of water sucked up from the surface though the spouts do kick up a spray at the water surface as they move along. Rather the funnel is a “condensation” cloud caused by cooler temperatures associated with the vortex.

The photos with this story show a classic bank of Lake Effect clouds at Oswego and the beginnings of a water spout that missed our boat in late August.

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