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Waterspouts amaze lake goers Tuesday night

Waterspouts are most common in August, September and October across the Great Lakes.
Credit: Debe Ralston

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Storm Team 2 received several reports of waterspouts as storms developed over Lake Erie Tuesday night. 

Waterspouts are a seasonal phenomenon and are the most common in August, September and October across the Great Lakes. This is typically when surface lake temperatures are the warmest.

Waterspouts are whirling columns of air and mist associated with an intense vortex, or funnel, that typically develop over water. However, there are two types of waterspouts that can develop: fair weather and tornadic. 

Tornadic waterspouts are usually tornadoes that develop over land and then move over water and can cause considerable damage. 

Fair weather waterspouts only form over open water and are relatively weaker in nature and develop at the base of cumulus clouds. They start at the surface of the water when the combination of warm water temperatures and high humidity create a small circulation that gets stretched into the clouds. 

Credit: Debe Ralston

The waterspouts spotted Tuesday night were clear examples of fair weather waterspouts, the kind that are most commonly seen by Western New Yorkers. 

It's rare for waterspouts that develop over the lake to move ashore and become a tornado, but it has happened before. Just two years ago when a waterspout moved ashore in the Buffalo Harbor on October 31, 2018. It's even more rare for a tornado to develop over land and then move into the lake, at least in this region.