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SCIENCE OBSERVER

Twisting at Tahoe

David Schneider

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The wind blew lightly, cumulus clouds were growing thick in the sky, and rain and hail fell in the mountains to the north, when a series of six waterspouts sprang up over Lake Tahoe, at the border of California and Nevada. Richard Grotjahn of the Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources at the University of California, Davis reported recently in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society about this curious event, which took place on August 26th, 1998. Although far from unique, such over-water twisters are quite rare, especially in the western U.S. For example, the Great Salt Lake in Utah (which has nine times the area of Lake Tahoe) experienced just 10 waterspouts between 1982 and 1996.

Although Grotjahn was unable to document previous examples on Lake Tahoe, he does share one anecdotal report from a man named Gary Kaufman, who had seen a waterspout there in the fall of 1981. Remarkably, Kaufman also observed the 1998 waterspouts and was able to photograph them. A sequence of three of his images, taken over an interval of 45 seconds, show the development of the largest of the six twisters.—David Schneider


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