Waterspouts spin over warm lakes in Central New York

Late in July, several waterspouts spun over Lake Ontario. They weâ??re well-documented in photographs taken by storm spotters in Wayne County. If you think they look like tornadoes, you are right, in a sense; but, there is no need to worry. Experts say they are fairly par for the course.

Associate Professor Scott Steiger of the SUNY Oswego meteorology department says that when chilly air moves over a warm lake, cumulus clouds, some showers, and occasional waterspouts are formed. Waterspouts are more common this time of year when the lake surface temperatures are in the mid-70s.

You likely saw some of the pictures on TV and online, but Dr. Steiger says we are not seeing more or less active weather, but documenting it more efficiently.

"We have a much more weather-savvy community now. People with iPhones, Androids, they have all these cameras on them. They take it, send it to you guys, and it gets up on the air. Whereas 30 years ago, these things happened, but probably werenâ??t as well-documented," says Dr. Steiger.

Waterspouts can also be called â??tornadoes over water.â?? The American Meteorological Society defines a tornado as a violently rotating column of air, in contact with the ground, attached to a cumulus cloud. Waterspouts fit this bill.

"It is a tornado. Itâ??s a tornado over water. So I always tell my students, when they see a waterspout, â??you saw your first tornado.â??"

Whenever the next push of cool air arrives in Central New York, weâ??ll likely get to see a few more.