Storm chasers and meteorologists observed a record number of waterspouts over the Great Lakes this month, according to the Toronto-based International Centre for Waterspout Research.
The group confirmed 240 of the spectacular weather events over the Great Lakes between September 28 and October 4.
A waterspout can form on a cloudy day, when cold air passes over warmer waters. The resulting vortex sucks down condensation from the cloud cover, creating a phenomenon that looks like a tornado.
Wade Szilagyi is a meteorologist with the Meteorological Service of Canada. He started the International Centre for Waterspout Research, an NGO, in 2008.
He says a waterspout's vortex also sucks water up, like in the film Sharknado.
“There is an element of truth to that movie,” he said. “Waterspouts have been known to actually pull fish out of the waters. And there's been evidence from around the world of this.”
Szilagyi says these “traditional” waterspouts — the 240 observed this fall — can be a hazard to boats and aircraft, but that they break apart when, and if, they reach the shore.
A smaller minority of waterspouts fit into another category: so-called severe-weather waterspouts. These behave like tornadoes, and can actually continue onto the land, where, Szilagyi says, they might uproot beach umbrellas or knock down trees.
Szilagyi says this year’s record number is due to a convergence of factors: optimal weather conditions, and many eager volunteers who traveled, sometimes hours, to the lakes to snap photos.
“I would say it’s the perfect storm...quote, unquote!” he said. “It actually was. All the ingredients came together.”
The research center regularly updates an online map on YouTube that shows where waterspouts are likely to occur so that volunteers can go observe them.
Unlike earlier this month, the most recent forecast, for October 10 to 12, shows almost no chance of waterspouts forming over the Great Lakes.