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WEATHER U: Cold spin over the water in Beaver Harbour, N.B.

Steam rising off the water on a cold January day... not uncommon.  A winter waterspout... priceless.  Gloria Nickerson-Brown spotted the spout last weekend in Beaver Harbour, N.B.
Steam rising off the water on a cold January day... not uncommon. A winter waterspout... priceless. Gloria Nickerson-Brown spotted the spout last weekend in Beaver Harbour, N.B. - Cindy Day

Have you ever seen a waterspout? They’re pretty amazing.

Despite the name, a waterspout is not filled with water from the ocean or lake - it reaches down from a cumulus cloud. The water inside a waterspout is formed by condensation in the cloud.

If you really want to see one, head to Florida. Waterspouts occur more frequently in the Florida Keys than anywhere in the world: they get 400 to 500 waterspouts a year in the stretch between Marathon to just past Key West.

Gloria didn’t have to go that far to see the one she photographed last weekend. Believe it or not, she spotted a winter waterspout right here in Atlantic Canada, in Beaver Harbour, N.B.

Isn’t it too cold for this in January?

The key to waterspouts forming is not simply the surface temperature, but the temperature difference between air near the water’s surface and the air a thousand metres or so above the surface.

When deep, cold air spills over a relatively warm body of water, the difference between the cold air above and the not-as-cold air near the water surface leads to instability – air that wants to rise, forming clouds.

If there’s enough spin from a weak wind shift over the water, the rising air converging from different directions can tighten the rotation into a waterspout.

Of course, for this to occur in mid-winter, you also need a mostly ice-free body of water; otherwise, the flux of relatively warm, humid air from the lake, or river won’t occur.

Most fair-weather, or non-super cell waterspouts, remain over water so they’re pretty to watch, and not dangerous.

Cindy Day is the chief meteorologist for SaltWire Network.

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