Several waterspouts spotted over Lake Michigan
By Frank Abderholden & Dan MoRAN firstname.lastname@example.org September 12, 2013 2:01PM
Winthrop Harbor Police officers were among those capturing images of twin funnel clouds churning south early in the afternoon. Though the waterspouts remained over open water and never touched land, tornado sirens sounded around 1:45 p.m. in Waukegan. | Photo courtesy Winthrop Harbor Police Department
Updated: November 12, 2013 3:26AM
Downtown workers and school children in Waukegan scrambled for cover Thursday, Sept. 12, as waterspouts formed over Lake Michigan and ran down the shoreline from Kenosha County.
Winthrop Harbor Police officers were among those capturing images of twin funnel clouds churning south early in the afternoon. Though the waterspouts remained over open water and never touched land, tornado sirens sounded around 1:45 p.m. in Waukegan.
Employees and visitors at the 10-story Lake County Building were locked down in safe areas after the waterspouts were sighted. County board members and other employees were advised to take cover in the basement until the emergency was lifted at about 2:20 p.m.
Students in Waukegan Public Schools were directed to hallways and safe areas, according to District 60 spokesman Nicholas Alajakis.
Alajakis added that two automated phone messages were placed to students’ homes — one informing parents and guardians about the safety procedures, and another letting them know when the danger had passed.
Students from the district’s early-release schools, including Cook and Lyon elementary and all five middle schools, were delayed from returning home by about 30 minutes due to the turbulent weather.
Waukegan officials reported no damage from the waterspouts, which reportedly generated outflow wind gusts of around 35 mph.
“We had multiple waterspouts over Lake Michigan,” said Shauna Haske, a Winthrop Harbor Fire Department shift commander. “It was odd because the sun was still shining at the station. Marina security (at Northpoint Marina in Winthrop Harbor) saw them and notified us just in case.”
“I’ve never seen one,” she added.
National Weather Service meteorologist David Beachler explained that cooler air going over warm water mixed with convergent winds make this a great time for waterspouts.
“Conditions look conducive over the next couple of days for all of the Great Lakes,” he said.
Beachler noted that this was the first series of waterspouts of the season.
“If it moves onto land, it would be a tornado,” he said. “Generally they are much less intense. It still rotates, but it’s much weaker.”
A boat could be damaged by a waterspout, but Beachler said they are typically easily seen and avoided by mariners.
“They are a little more common this time of year,” said Beachler.
Scott Houchin, 45, of Silver Lake, Wis., spotted Thursday’s waterspouts while driving on Sheridan Road from Waukegan.
“Coming through Pleasant Prairie I heard sirens and looked to my right and saw the waterspout over the lake,” he said.
He turned onto 116th Street and started taking video with his phone.
Asked if he was worried Houchin said, “No not worried at all. I’ve been through a couple of tornados through my life. I knew what to do just in case.
“As I was shooting the video I definitely kept my eyes on it,” he added.
The National Weather Service issued a special marine warning and small craft advisory along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The warnings, which ran from Winthrop Harbor to Wilmette Harbor, note forecasts of “showers and thunderstorms capable of producing a waterspout and strong winds to 40 knots over Winthrop Harbor,” according to the National Weather Service.
“The Kenosha Airport observer reported seeing a waterspout southeast of the airport,” the National Weather Service stated.
The weather service also issued a beach-hazards statement that runs through Friday, Sept. 13, from Lake County around the shore to Lake County in Indiana.
The statement warned that “dangerous pounding waves and life-threatening rip currents” were expected along the Lake Michigan shore through late Friday night. Swimmers were advised to stay out of the water.
Waves can reach 10 to 14 feet, according to the alert.
The weather service invites people to publish their photographs of the waterspouts on their Facebook page.
Jeremy Bloom of Pleasant Prairie Wis., posted a picture of twin spouts taken by a friend at 1:30 p.m. off Carol Beach. Michael Madsen of the Kenosha Police Department took a picture of a large and small waterspout next to each other.