The start of the school year is often looked at as an unofficial sign that summer is coming to a close, but there’s another unexpected signal seen this week on Lake Huron: waterspouts.
Social media was abuzz Monday with pictures and videos showing waterspouts off Sauble Beach, Ont., around Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, but Environment Canada’s Gerald Cheng says it’s not surprising to see at this time of year.
Cheng says waterspouts can develop either “top-down,” often in dangerous storms, or “water-up,” when cooler air passes over warm water — conditions that are more likely to occur in late summer.
David Sills, executive director of the Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) out of Western University in London, Ont., says “waterspouts are essentially tornadoes over water” but “this type of waterspout (caused by cool air over warm water) is typically weak and dissipates once reaching shore.”
Sills says the NTP is aware of many reports of waterspouts and funnel clouds “over the past few days” and added that the same conditions will be in place Wednesday morning, “so it is possible we will see more reports come in.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, there have been no reports of damage associated with the recent waterspouts.
“We will of course be monitoring the activity and will investigate if any damage is reported,” Sills added.
While these types of waterspouts develop in less dangerous conditions than those that develop “top-down” — which Cheng said was the case in the fatal 2011 Goderich, Ont., tornado — people should still take safety precautions. Cheng advises that boaters stay away from waterspouts and stick close to shore when a waterspout watch is in effect.