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Tornadoes over Lake Michigan? Yeah, but call ’em ‘waterspouts’

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Updated: October 15, 2013 7:21AM

Two waterspouts that formed over Lake Michigan near Kenosha, Wis., drew looks of awe Thursday afternoon, as well as calls to local police from concerned citizens.

“I saw them from an overpass on my way to work,” said Kenosha Police Capt. Tom Hansche. “About 10 minutes later I got to work and there was no mayhem, so I figured it would be all right.”

He figured right.

The waterspouts, which are funnel clouds that develop over water, spun southeast and dissipated harmlessly over the lake. They lasted for about 15 minutes beginning just after 1 p.m., causing no damage on land or to boaters.

“We did get a number of calls from people who wanted to know what was going on,” Hansche said.

Tornado sirens went off in Kenosha, and a warning was issued to boaters from Kenosha County south to Cook County in Illinois.

“If waterspouts are going to happen, this is the time of year,” said National Weather Service Meteorologist Gino Izzi.

A cold front moving southeast along the shoreline produced thunderstorms,” Izzi said. “And they ended up producing, essentially, a tornado when they moved over the lake,” he said.

It’s rare that waterspouts move inland, but it can happen, Izzi said.

“On very rare occasions they could move inland and pose a much more significant threat like a tornado would.”

The last major waterspouts seen off Chicago’s coast occurred two years ago. “There were multiple waterspouts on Sept. 9, 2011, that were visible from Navy Pier,” Izzi said.

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