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Rare winter waterspouts spotted on Lake Michigan

Did you know waterspouts were possible in the winter? Two were spotted Monday morning!

MUSKEGON, Mich — One of the many fascinating phenomena that Lake Michigan is capable of was spotted early Monday morning.

The National Weather Service in Grand Rapids has officially confirmed two winter waterspouts, or should we say "snownadoes", on Lake Michigan.

One waterspout was sent in by our viewer, Laura Bunnell, whose son spotted it along the lakeshore in Muskegon. It only lasted about 3 to 4 minutes, so his timing was perfect. 

Credit: Laura Bunnell
Photo from Muskegon on 1/10/2022 showing a waterspout over Lake Michigan.

Another waterspout was spotted in Ludington by John and Julie Milowe. They were certainly weather aware considering that clouds shadowed the waterspout, but if you look close enough it's visible in the center of the photo. 

When the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids was asked if this has ever occurred before on Lake Michigan in January they said, "From our memory, we can't think of any others that have been photographed, but doppler radar studies of heavy lake-effect snow bands over the water, especially those on Lakes Erie and Ontario, suggest that waterspouts can occur pretty frequently within them." 

While there was no lake effect snow on Monday, the environmental ingredients were just right for waterspouts to occur.  

One of the main factors is having very cold arctic air pass over relatively warmer waters. 

Credit: Michael Behrens
Depiction of the ingredients needed to form a non-tornadic waterspout.

Muskegon dropped down to 10° F Monday morning with water temperatures near 55° F. This contrast in temperature can cause rapidly rising air, leading to the necessary amount of "lift" to from a waterspout. Add in low-level wind shear causing the air to spin, and like magic, a rare winter waterspout forms. 

If you are ever able to capture one of the many wonders on Lake Michigan, text it to 616.559.1310. 

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