The world has been experiencing some extreme weather lately, and the Great Lakes, in their own way, are no exception. Earlier this month, there were at least 28 waterspouts reported on the lakes in just one 24-hour span, a high number even for late summer.
“We’re in the peak of waterspout season . . . at the very end of August, beginning of September,” Wade Szilagyi, director of the International Centre for Waterspout Research, told the Welland Tribune.
And while 28 waterspouts in a day may seem like a lot, it’s not necessarily a sign of end times. In fact, it’s not even a record. The title of most Great Lakes waterspouts in a single day belongs to October 20, 2013, when there were 67.
So, what exactly is a waterspout?
They’re basically small tornadoes, or funnel clouds, that touch down on lakes and oceans, sucking up water (and releasing a considerable spray).
“There are two kinds of waterspouts: fair weather and severe weather,” said Szilagyi. “Fair weather is when they hit land, they dissipate quickly on the beach because they’ve lost their source of energy — the air and water temperature difference.”
Severe weather waterspouts, on the other hand, can move onto land and become tornadoes.
The streak of waterspouts earlier this month were fair weather waterspouts, which fortunately are not too dangerous if you keep your distance. Szilagyi gave a tip to boaters who spot waterspouts to get away as quickly as possible. “They should move at 90 degrees to the apparent direction of the waterspout. . . . Don’t try and outrun them. They are a marine hazard and can capsize small boats.”
If you spot a waterspout, you may want to take a day off from the lake. Or, as Dorothy put it, “There’s no place like home.”