9/12/15 Lake Michigan Waterspout (?) and Funnels Log

I definitely learned something new this day. Even a couple days before, I really had little idea as to what kind of conditions cause waterspouts and why this weekend over others was building quite the hype. After seeing NWS Chicago issue marine outlooks containing, simply, “Waterspouts likely.” for a period of time between 1am and 1pm Saturday, my friends and I decided we wanted to amass as many Valpo students as possible and leave at 6:00 for the Indiana Dunes to get some experience in the most backwards “tornado chasing” setup known to man.


With a dark lake-effect rain band to the west of a crystal clear sunrise the 2 hours of off-and-on rainbows we had really didn’t come as a surprise; what did was how this one looked like nature decided to throw in an exclamation mark.



Quality rainbow chasing.


Something about this scene looking toward Gary, IN just got me. Choppy waters, a garbage-ridden beach and nasty power plant were illuminated against pitch black skies. The rainbow just seemed ironic.


The same scene just over a half hour later. Did I mention weather changes on a dime?


Smoke rising from factories literally getting sucked into lake-effect updrafts. This is what made spout-spotting the most teasing sport possible.


The untrained eye would see Chicago’s apocalypse, courtesy tornadoes everywhere.


Then out of nowhere, just before 9:00am a dark finger is born from a different location.


To this day I still can’t completely call it a waterspout. Supporting it being a waterspout is that it was connected to a rapidly developing cell, it was definitely wider near the top and appeared to be disconnected from the ground for a bit. Smoke plumes on either side of it are literally being “ingested” into it from opposite directions, meaning there was a definite low-level rotation. Supporting a smoke plume is how it really doesn’t move in 2 minutes, and it’s just plain big. The world may never know, as rain obscured the view from anyone west of the Dunes. It was reported by someone else near Gary, so at least us group of 25 Valpo meteorology students weren’t insane.


Hollow tube action near the bottom. Could it really be?




At least we saw this, the next closest thing to a legitimate funnel. This was among a couple more we saw after noon.

I enjoyed the day because I made new friends (as well as people who now probably think I’m insane) and got to show the freshmen what was as close to an actual “chase” experience as possible: early morning wake-up call, 6 straight hours of waiting, constantly seeing things you think are tornadoes, and ultimately still being unsure that what you saw was what you thought you saw.