July 3, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Waterspout spotted on Lake St. Clair near Grosse Pointes

Grosse Pointe Farms — There was a waterspout on Lake St. Clair Thursday morning, causing a traffic backup as motorists stopped to gawk, record and text about the event.

The waterspout — basically a weak tornado that’s retaining water — was spotted off Moran and Lakeshore.

According to the National Weather Service, the waterspout appeared on their radar at about 8:56 a.m. Witnesses say they spotted the waterspout around 8:30 a.m.

Grosse Pointe Yacht Club harbormaster Alex Turner was in his office in the tower of the club when he spotted the watery twister.

“There’s a lot of windows up there, and I can see all of Lake St. Clair,” said Turner, 42. “I couldn’t hear anything but as soon as I saw it starting to form, I grabbed my camera and started shooting. It was very cool and lasted 10 to 12 minutes.”

Turner has worked at the yacht club for 23 years and this is the first time he’s ever seen a waterspout.

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“Actually, waterspouts aren’t all that rare,” meteorologist Sara Schultz said. “We do get reports of waterspouts around the area, but they’re mostly on larger bodies of water, not on smaller inland lakes. They’re caused by a convection, which occurs when colder air moves over warmer water. They create weak, lower end tornadoes, but they’re still something to avoid.”

Grosse Pointe Farms resident Jeff Smoken was taking his two children to swim lessons when they saw the spout curving from a cloud into the lake.

“We pulled over into a turn out, and my son and I got out and took a bunch of photographs,” Smolen said. “At the same time, a bunch of other cars stopped on Lakeshore and started using their cellphones. We hung out for about five minutes and it retreated back up into the sky.”

Although statistics aren’t yet available for 2013, there were “at least 154 waterspouts” spotted on the Great Lakes in 2012, according to Wade Szilagyi, a meteorologist with Canada’s weather service and director of the International Centre for Waterspout Research.

Szilagyi has also created the Szilagyi Index, which is similar to the Fujita Scale used to measure land-based tornadoes.

tgreenwood@detroitnews.com
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A waterspout forms over Lake St. Clair beyond boats docked at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club in Grosse Pointe Shores around 8:30 a.m. Thursday morning. / Alex Turner / Special to The Detroit News