Waterspouts seen off Lake Ontario during violent Friday morning storm

A waterspout forming over Lake Ontario waters.  (David Bubbins | The Oswegonian)
A waterspout forming over Lake Ontario waters. (David Bubbins | The Oswegonian)

Between the times of 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 10, Lake Ontario was subject to an outbreak of tornadic activity near Oswego State’s campus.

Meteorologists call this phenomenon of tornadoes on the surface of a lake “waterspouts.” One of the first people to notice this outbreak was Steven Skubis, who teaches tropical meteorology at Oswego State.

“I was coming back from a meeting in Lanigan, and I had an introduction to meteorology class at 9:10,” Skubis said. “So on my way over to Shineman, I looked at the lake-effect band, and I noticed a smooth cone shape coming out of the base and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ So when I got to the MET100 class, we went to the west side of the first floor in Shineman and indeed it was still there. It wasn’t well defined, but I could see it and other students could see it when I tried to pin-point it.”

Soon after, many other students started to report several other waterspouts during this period.

This, however, wasn’t the first time that this has happened. Lake Ontario is subject to waterspouts every single autumn and holds the record of the area with the most amount of waterspouts on a yearly basis in North America according to the Journal of Atmospheric Research. This raises the question as to why students do not see more waterspouts, even when Oswego is one of the best places for waterspouts to form.

“The conditions for waterspouts are actually many of the conditions needed for lake-effect snow,” said WTOP-10 meteorologist Rick Garuckas. “I look for at least a 13 degrees celcius difference between the lake and four-fifths of a mile in altitude, and I like to look for west wind directions; the same kind of fetch that you would get from a lake effect band that would cause heavy precipitation. A lot of times along the lake effect band, you can get these little appendages that can come down and can cause a serious waterspout.”

Because the conditions for waterspouts are so similar to lake-effect weather, it makes waterspouts very difficult to predict. Due to this, waterspouts aren’t reported as often as many people would expect.

“The reason why people don’t see them is because they are such short-lived; so you would have to be looking at the clouds for about a half-hour straight in order to catch one,” said Scott Steiger of the meteorology department at Oswego State. “My sons and I were out there at 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. when I had good feeling that there were going to be waterspouts—but I guess we missed the main show.”

Waterspout season isn’t over yet, so there is still time for more to appear. In most cases, the last waterspouts are seen at the beginning of November. If there are rightful conditions just off the campus for waterspouts, the one thing to look for is a cone-shaped dip in the clouds that are currently over the lake. Even though they may not be seen every single time, it is a sight to see considering Oswego State is a prime source for tornadic activity.