September 18, 2012


Initial Target: South Haven, MI
Departure: Springfield, IL 11:30 pm September 17
Arrival: Springfield, IL 10:00 pm
Intercepts: None
Tornadoes: 0
Hail: Non-Severe (not measured)
Wind: Non-Severe (not measured)
Features: None
Miles: 609


Waterspout chase on the southwest Lake Michigan shore of Michigan. Observed rows of towering cumulus but no spouts. Relocated from South Haven, MI to New Buffalo, IN as new towers went up at sunset with streaky precipitation shafts and gorgeous sunset but no spouts.

Crew and Equipment:

Solo Chase.  Equipment:  Kenwood TH-F6A Tribander, Dell Inspiron Laptop.  Millenicom 760 USB datacard and cradlepoint router, Holux 236 GPS, Canon 60D and EF-S 10-22mm




After seeing Eric Treece catch 5-6 simultaneous waterspouts while captaining a cargo ship on Lake Michigan, I was determined to get out there and catch a few for myself. Tuesday looked like a good day with cold temps aloft and Lake Michigan at record temps. Surface winds were out of the west so I targeted the eastern shore and picked South Haven, MI as a starting point, left the night before, camped in the van, and was on the lake shore at dawn to shoot some time lapse and watch for spouts.

More convection was pretty but looked a little shallow for waterspouts. I stopped a few different parks south of South Haven before heading into town and parking at the marina. The trees along the lake shore make spotting extremely difficult except for a select few parks and marinas. While supercell chasing, you generally avoid towns, but for spout spotting, they're practically a requirement.
The wind was whipping some waves up and although the air was quite cool, the lake was warm and surfers and kiteboarders were getting ready have some fun in the lake:
Bigger showers were moving on shore to my north. I pulled out the telephoto to see if I could get a distant spout under one of the bases. I didn't see any but the colors under the base going from teal to steel and silver were quite beautiful.
Large waves crashing into the lighthouse point at South Haven, MI:
Surfers padding out into the lake:
By afternoon the cumulus field had thinned out and the larger showers were gone. The sun came out and the beach was overrun by kiteboarders. It would have been great to get one of them in a shot with a spout in the distance, but my hopes of catching a spout were waning at this point.
I set one camera up to experiment with some time lapsing while shooting the kiteboarders:
The waterspout parameter was still looking decent, but without semi tall updrafts I knew I wouldn't catch anything. I decided to call it by late afternoon and started heading for home.
Crossing the MI/IN border I saw new updrafts over the lake and firing on the radar. The setting sunlight was gorgeous too and I decided to stop and give it one last shot. I pulled into the parking lot at the New Buffalo marina to see what I could find.
Gorgeous sunbeams lighting up rain curtains. The lighting would have been absolutely perfect if we had a spout.
I spent awhile chatting with a local who came out to see the sunset while scanning the updraft bases. There were lots of streaking precipitation bands that my mind was trying to twist into waterspouts, but nothing condensed.
One of the better looking precipitation streaks on the back of a small cell after it had moved onto land:
The sunset was definitely worth hanging around for, however, and I was glad I stopped. Fiery oranges and reds:

This alone made the trip worth it. Purple clouds with magenta bases, and a rainbow of colors on the horizon. Beautiful. When the colors faded I was on my way heading for home, letting the camera run a motion time lapse as the clouds still looked quite neat and there was a pretty crescent moon.


My second attempt at bagging waterspouts this year was another bust, but it sure was a gorgeous day out on the lake. I enjoyed the day and stunning sunset, and got some great pictures even though it was a bust.


Lessons Learned: 

  • Busted waterspout chases on Lake Michigan can still make for extremely picturesque photo outings.