Hanging around the Great Lakes, it’s very possible you one day may look out to the horizon and see a tornado-like funnel coming at you from across the water. This is an occurrence that happens a good handful of times a year, yet it freaks out tourists who refer to these as “water tornadoes”. Close – but they are actually called water ‘spouts’.

Water spouts are mistaken for tornadoes, and sometimes if they are very small ones, they may look like some kind of a ‘ghost ship’ that is gliding through the water (photo of one in the gallery below).

What are they and what causes ‘em?

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration describes them as a "funnel which contains an intense vortex, sometimes destructive, of small horizontal extent and which occurs over a body of water." Tornadic waterspouts usually begin on land caused by thunderstorms and head into the water. Fair weather waterspouts only form over the water, thanks to warm water, cold air, and high humidity.

The main months to possibly get a glimpse of a Great Lake water spout is during the months of August thru October while lake water is at its warmest.

The only really scary part is when the large, tornado-like funnels reach land…then some people start to panic. But once on land, the spouts cause very little or zero damage and vanish quickly. Even though boaters are warned to steer clear of the spouts, there are some who attempt to navigate their boat and pilot their way though the spout itself. Some who have done this claim they’ll never try it again.

Check out some photos of Great Lakes water spouts and some shots of a guy who actually cruised through one!

Water Spouts: 'Tornadoes' of the Great Lakes


Tornadoes in Michigan, Early 1900s

Five Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes

Michigan's Worst Natural Disaster: the 1953 Flint-Beecher Tornado












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