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Weekend waterspouts across Great Lakes are part of record year

ICWR.ca observer

This waterspout formed over Lake Erie on Sunday. The photo was taken looking east towards Cleveland, Ohio, from Lorain, Ohio.

The Cleveland Browns football team hosted a special pregame show on Sunday: a waterspout seen from the lakeside stadium before sputtering out harmlessly. It was one of 13 waterspouts reported over Lake Erie on Sunday and part of what's already a record year for sightings on the Great Lakes.

"2012 has seen so far a total of 154 waterspouts," Wade Szilagyi, a meteorologist with Canada's weather service and director of the International Centre for Waterspout Research, told NBC News.

"This shatters the old record of 94 waterspouts reported in 2003," he said, noting that the season runs into fall so the number will go higher.

Great Lakes waterspout records go back to 1994 and this summer also saw a new single-day record: 30 waterspouts reported on Sept. 9.

Szilagyi suspects two factors are at work: "a hot summer resulting in very warm water," which helps create the waterspouts, and increased use of social media for reporting them.

"Technology is improving through Twitter, Facebook, cell phone pics, etc.," he noted. "In the past we had a limited number of sources such as Coast Guard, pilot reports, ship reports, weather observations."

"In the future, as our climate gets warmer, thus heating the lakes, and as social media use increases even more, I expect increasing numbers of reported waterspouts," he added. "However, just like the stock market, there will be dips because some summers will be cool, but this will be less and less frequent with time."

Sunday's activity was part of a weekend-long outbreak that started Friday on Lake Superior. Four waterspouts were sighted that day, followed by eight on Saturday as cold air from Canada moved down and across the warmer lakes.

Szilagyi was actually able to predict the outbreak using an index he fully implemented this year after working on it for 18 years.

"We can now predict conditions that are favorable for waterspout development several days in advance," he said.

The weekend activity also caught the attention of locals who tweeted dozens of images, as well as other weather experts.

Weather.com, for one, posted images and a video.

NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins retweeted a photo of the spout near Cleveland Browns Stadium.


This Great Lakes map shows the forecast for waterspouts on Monday. Red is the highest danger in the system devised by Wade Szilagyi.

"This one was weak and wouldn't have done much damage had it moved on shore," he noted. But had it done so, he added, it would have been categorized as a weak tornado. 

"Lots of people don't realize waterspouts happen frequently during warm months over the Great Lakes -- most people think Florida and the Keys are where they are the most frequent," he added.

As for those Cleveland fans who saw the spout, their team lost on Sunday but Mother Nature did provide a second treat, this time post-game: a double rainbow, Cleveland's newsnet5.com reported.

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