Large Waterspouts Over Lake Michigan - KMSP-TV

Large Waterspouts Over Lake Michigan

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Several large waterspouts were spotted just off the coast of Wisconsin Thursday afternoon that proved to be some of the largest and most photogenic spouts in a long time. Even Tom Skilling, the longtime WGN meteorologist said "he's never seen anything like it." A supercell (the most violent of thunderstorms) developed as it was exiting the coast of Wisconsin near Kenosha when it began to rotate and eventually drop several tornadoes over water… or waterspouts. But these were different waterspouts and that was very quickly understood by all.

The typical waterspout, one that you would see in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of Florida, are developed with a different process than what would be considered a "normal" tornado. They are weak and fairly unthreatening. They can come ashore and cause minor damage, but winds rarely top 40 mph in these circular columns. But the waterspouts yesterday were tornadoes over water. Formed in a supercell, as we know these can house 200+ mph winds. This became very clear when the sheer size of these waterspouts caught everyone off guard. Here are some of the pictures captured by local residents and the sheriff's department. These were obtained from the National Weather Service office in Milwaukee.

The following images are from the Doppler radar out of Milwaukee. The first shows the radar image and velocity before the storm became severe and then the second shows the storm as it had active waterspouts.

The image on the left is what the radar looks like when you just look at the rain falling. The first image is of the storm when it's still on shore and gathering strength. The second one is when the storm is over water and has a hook shape to it. This is what we call a hook echo, or a signature you get when the storm has strong rotation. Now the right two images are with the velocity product using the radar. The velocity shows storm rotation with green moving toward the radar and red moving away. I have circled the area that had the two waterspouts. You can see that the red and green colors are very close together and basically making a circle. Those are the actually tornadoes (or waterspouts) in the storm.

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