Weather In-Depth: Waterspouts for the season

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It is that time of the year for our great nemesis called “lake effect.” So far this season the lake effect has taken the form of rain coming in off Lake Erie.

This change in the weather has been precipitated by a significant shift in the weather pattern. Remember, last week Western New York was enjoying temperatures that were well above normal with several days of 80 degree weather. Well, the temperature recently has lowered considerably for Rochester and unseasonably cool weather is with us for the foreseeable future. Along with lake effect, we can also see waterspouts.

Pictures of a waterspout can look rather ominous, but rarely do they cause any concern in Western New York. Even though these can look like tornados, waterspouts are best described as the weaker cousin of a traditional twister. The necessary ingredients for a waterspout have to begin with the relatively warm water found this time of the year in Lake Ontario or Lake Erie. Right now, the water temperatures are averaging around 65 degrees and are leftover heat from this past summer season. Then much colder autumnal winds begin to cross the Great Lakes and in that wind the temperatures at 3,000 or 4,000 feet in the atmosphere are much closer to freezing. Over time this difference in the temperature differential creates a lot of instability in the air and (almost like a hot air balloon) this moisture and heat is then lifted into the atmosphere. If there is enough spinning motion, the vertical velocity in the column then becomes visible with the condensation of the moisture.

This is not an uncommon sight for lakeside homeowners. Fortunately, these waterspouts are usually only a concern for boaters, as they dissipate quickly when they approach land.