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On This Day, October 30, 1934: Water Spouts Extra on Lake Erie!

That’s right—water spouts, not sports. October is water spout month on the Great Lakes.
If you’ve ever seen a water spout on Lake Erie you know it is an amazing thing. They appear as a funnel-shaped cloud vortex. They can be whitish, or gray, or nearly black, depending on the force of water reaching up the columnar vortex connected to a cumuliform cloud.
The autumn period of 2003 saw the largest waterspout outbreak over the Great Lakes in recorded history. In total, an unbelievable 66+ waterspouts were sighted! On a particular night, several of us saw all three outside the Buffalo Harbor.
It was that autumn Friday night in 2003 when about 20 of our sailors smartly opted for a fish fry at the CPO Club over the idea of going out into what looked a bit ominous over the lake, skies blackening and winds whipping. Sure enough, from the vantage of one of the best views of Lake Erie, we saw, through the picture windows of the CPO, three separate and wily water spouts, all formed within several seconds of eachother. One was close to the Point Abino point, another near the Emerald water intake, and another at some distance further into the lake. One black, one gray and one was white.
Water spouts aren’t every day nor every summer events calling upon Buffalo’s waters, but they have a recorded history of some definite frequency, such as reported here about On This Day. Back in the 1930’s, Buffalo’s Weather Bureau reporter J.H. Spencer worked from the towers downtown in what was referred to as the Telephone building. There he could watch all forms of weather cook up upon the lake. Here is his riveting report from October 30, 1934:
“A waterspout was seen over Lake Erie outside the outer break wall, from the Weather Bureau Office, at 11:30 a. m. It appeared to move rapidly from northwest to southeast,
at a distance of approximately 2 miles from the Telephone Building.
The funnel cloud was very distinct, being darker than the surrounding clouds, and merged above into the low cloud mass that covered the sky. It was of very small diameter, but extended upward from the water several hundred feet.
From our point of observation at theTelephone Building, the violent agitation of the water by the funnel cloud was plainly seen. The white spray seemed to extend upward a number of feet. I doubt if the phenomenon lasted over 10 to 15 minutes, although we did not see it at the beginning.
Three hours before the waterspout formed, the sky over a large part of Buffalo was inky black. I never saw a blacker sky, but the clouds passed along eastward, giving only moderate squalls of rain and snow.
During the hour between 11 a. m. and noon, the wind blew 49 minutes from the west and 11 from the southwest. The average velocity for the hour was 26 miles from west and the maximum wind for the hour was 28 miles from west at 11:37 a. m. The barometer was
steady from 8 a. m. to 2 p. m. (29.76 inches reduced). There was no line squall.
The lookout on duty at the Coast Guard reports that he saw 3 other waterspouts (4 in all) between 11 a. m. and 11:40 a. m., the one around 11:30 a. in. being the largest.
The last previous waterspout to be seen from our windows at Buffalo occurred on September 27, 1928.–J. H. Spencer.”
Water spouts do make the local weather history books. For the eyes-on reporter, they’re a heckuva sight to see. The Mariner’s Weather Log reports on the 2003 phenomenon that “to understand the scale of this historic event, a comparison must be made with a typical waterspout outbreak. Typically waterspout outbreaks last for about 24 hours with 5 waterspouts being sighted.”
What an experience we Seven Seas sailors had to simply watch what would have greeted us first hand had we chosen to sail that night. The Weather Log reminds us now that “The Great Outbreak of 2003 lasted almost 7 times longer than an average outbreak period. It also produced just over 13 times the number of waterspouts that would normally occur.”
“Some types of weather are so interesting to see…just
As long as they don’t happen where you happen to be!”

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