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August 22, 2013     Post 41
More Lake Ontario Lore

As we move into late summer when cooler winds begin to blow over water still warmed by those hot July afternoons, marine weather predictions for possible waterspouts become more frequent. The water spouts often seem to appear on fairly breezy days, but I and others have seen the so called 'fair weather' variety as well.

The following excerpt from my new book "Legends And Lore of Lake Ontario" seems particularly timely as the first lake effect clouds begin forming out to there to the north and as the sheltered waters of the bay begin once more to release wisps of vapor on clear cool nights.

From “Legends and Lore” published June 2013 by the history press. Buy from www.chimneybluff.com or from a bookstore or a Wegman's Grocery near you.

Waterspouts, intensely localized and usually very short lived marine 'tornadoes', have long been associated with the Florida Keys and Gulf Coast. They are also seasonally fairly common on the Great Lakes and there is some evidence that they may become more frequent in the future on these inland waters as climate change increases the incidence of strong storms and changeable weather.

Perhaps twenty years ago I was sailing down the St. Lawrence on a squally unsettled afternoon when a dark cloud swept overhead and dumped five minutes of heavy rain on my boat. After it stopped I was bemused by the presence of many little gelatinous blogs on the boat's cabin top. Close examination revealed them to be snail egg masses. I also saw a few bits of pond weed scattered about. Later that day I talked to another boat skipper who had experienced a similar fallout of plant and animal life on his boat. We decided that the blustery squally weather had probably produced a short lived waterspout somewhere nearby.

The small sea going tornado must have crossed a backwater shallow and carried some of it aloft. When it broke up, it dropped the water and its associated biota mixed with rain. The odd occurrences of frogs and fish falling from the sky that are reported now and then from around the country must surely be of similar causes.

Water spouts, ephemeral and mysterious as they may be, are actually fairly common on Lake Ontario. I've seen them three or four times, and last summer a friend forwarded a photo of a funnel cloud in the sky with my moored boat in the foreground. A couple of years ago a September cold front generated 154 reports of water spouts on all the Great Lakes and in 2003 more than 20 were sighted in one week on Lake Ontario. They are most frequent here in the fall when cold air rushes across the still warm lake. The sharp contrasts in temperature and associated strong turbulent energies can cause tornado like funnels with up to 70 mph winds—strong enough to cause plenty of damage if they hit a small boat or an unprepared sailing vessel.

The dark tendrils dropping then lifting again from clouds often stretch and bend and appear almost like living creatures. Water spouts have been blamed for some sea monster sightings, and they are so odd and so short lived they might well appear to be a bizarre life form to a tired sailor caught in bad weather and poor visibility. Now that so many beach combers and boats have smart phone cameras, research on their formation and occurrence is getting a boost from citizen science sightings and documentation. The International Center For Waterspout Research which includes a Toronto based meteorologist, has a website that collects and logs reports from the general public as part of their effort.

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