A giant waterspout too close for comfort

By November 19, 2012Environment, Other, Research

Yesterday was a day of changeable weather. We farewelled our friends, on their way to Lakes Entrance, a bit after 9 o’clock, in glorious sunshine. What a great day you’ll have, we said. So will you, they replied. We tidied up, and went for a walk to buy a paper and a coffee. By then it was cloudy and humid, and while we were drinking our coffee a few  fat drops of rain fell. The clouds were now developing into cumulonimbus structures, the sign of rain and thunderstorms.  I decided I’d mow the grass as soon as we got home.

I completed that task just before a big cloud system pushed past us, went out to sea, and decided to come back. One of life’s sweeter pleasures is to get the mowing done before the rain sets in, and I was in high good humour. As the afternoon wore on the easterly wind began to grow in strength, until it was flattening the waves, and the tops of the trees in front of us on the  headland  were bent over.

Our house is brick and concrete, but the gale made me wonder whether we might lose some glass if a branch came off one of the trees. Then I saw the waterspout. Our house is on a cliff, and ahead of it, perhaps 300 metres away in the mouth of the Clyde River, was a large waterspout – a vertical rotating white column that extended from the sea straight up into the cloud base. It looked to have a diameter of about 80 metres and a height of perhaps 300 metres. I had never seen one before, and was astonished. We hadn’t seen it start, and since the wind was coming directly at us, from the north-east, I assumed that the waterspout would do the same.

But it stayed still for a few moments, a huge white column with what looked like spray running down its sides, and a whole lot of spray where it met the sea. Then to my great relief it moved in the opposite direction, gathering speed as it did so. Within a few minutes it had crossed the mouth of the Clyde, three kilometres or so, losing size, until it looked like a small white version of the US tornadoes we see on television. When it reached the far bank of the river the spray at its base simply stopped. Seconds later so had the pipe into the clouds. The gale ebbed, the clouds reformed, and  it was as though the waterspout had never been.

Half an hour later the sun was out, and we went off for an errand. On the way back the black clouds re-appeared, and the rain returned, with the gale, now from the south, and every bit as fierce. We had lightning and thunder as well. Would there be another waterspout? There wasn’t, though we saw it again, from another perspective, on the evening news.

The weather petered out to drizzly rain, and then rainbows, a double one first. A still night was followed by drizzly rain at dawn and then the return of the southerly. We have often experienced stormy weather on the South Coast, but never a giant waterspout. It was almost unbelievable. The online Canberra Times this morning had some excellent visuals.

Of course, I had left my camera back in Canberra!

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