Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Incredibly Rare Snowspout! Lake Effect Snow Event 12/8/2016

Record warm Lake Erie waters and an arctic plunge from Canada were setting the stage for a classic Lake Effect snow event for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and particularly New York. With how epic the Buffalo blizzard of 2014 was i'm pretty hesitant to chase Lake Effect anymore. After all. How could that be topped? But, with talks of 2-3 feet of snow and a week off of work due to hours cut the thought was in the back of mind to go for it. December 7th rolled around and my friend Thomas had messaged me informing me that he was on his way from Canada to document this event and had invited me to come along when I arrived up there. Earlier in the day I was pretty committed on not going. Although it would have been nice to see friends, I just couldn't find the motivation to fund a trip to New York after just returning from Alberta and the Northwest Territories of Canada. But, as if the weather Gods were speaking to me, I received not one, but two gas gift cards in the mail for Christmas that day. The decision had been made and I was on my way to New York to meet up with Thomas and cover this event.

Snow isn't a particularly appealing weather choice for most chasers. But, some of the most intense chases I have been on have indeed been blizzards. Now, I won't drive to North Dakota for a Winter Storm Warning. But, these power house blizzards that can sweep in can really make for incredible scenes on a chase. With major cities being crippled and brought to their knees is pretty impressive for weather to do. Let alone in the form of snow. At least in my opinion.

I arrived in my target of Dunkirk, New York around 1130pm and met up with Thomas and Reed at Applebee's to grab a couple drinks before heading to the hotel in preparation for what tomorrow had to unfold.

I was super exhausted from working all day then driving 4 hours to Dunkirk, so I was out pretty early. The next morning snow had already began to fall and before roads became bad we adjusted to Maysville, New York. A location in which was higher in elevation and a location where we felt would received higher snowfall totals judging by where the LES band was setting up. By noon, the snow was in full force with whiteout conditions and roads quickly becoming snow covered with cars and semis sliding off into the ditch and struggling up the hilly terrain of Northeast, New York.

Pictured above is Reed in his rental as at times it became hard to see him due to the poor conditions outside as we near I-90 approaching a heavier snow band. After driving back up to Dunkirk and filming a bit around town, we jumped back on 90 (for probably the 10th time in 2 hours) and pulled off at an Exit ramp as Reed's 360 degree camera died and needed charged for a few minutes. Little did we know how key this 10-15 minutes would be. 

The chase resumes. We decide to head back towards our hotel as another heavier snowband was setting up. As we drove Westbound on 90 clearing a lake effect band, nearing the town of Westfield we noticed something odd behind the tree line. We poked through a clearing and what we swore looked like a funnel cloud appeared. There's no way. Its actively snowing right now. Surely our eyes are playing tricks on us? That's got to be scud of some sort. Thomas and I both said "I wonder if Reed is seeing this?" and as soon as we said that Reed floored it ahead to clear the trees. That answered our question, and we did the same. 

It had that shape. Still. There is absolutely no way this is what I think it actually is. Right? As it continues to further organize and come closer and closer to the ground. It emerges from the tree line and there was no denying it now. I can see it spinning. Not just spinning, but strengthening and damn near fully condensed. A freaking waterspout was underway!!! Never in my life did I ever imagine i'd see a waterspout while it was snowing!

This spout was now going for almost 2 minutes as it continues to push off to my East. I'm still in disbelief. Surely I am dreaming right now? 2 minutes 30 seconds later it finally begins to rope out (note the snow actively falling in the shot)

After roping out Reed ran up to our car and we all high five each other in celebration. We just witnessed something probably not a single other storm chasers has ever witnessed. All by dumb luck too. Had we not stopped for that short time to let his camera charge this would have been yet another snowspout gone undocumented. Even knowing what I saw, and knowing what it was. I was incredibly nervous about posting this to social media. Seeming how people are how they are and would likely accuse me of lying. When, in fact. The opposite happen. The photo went viral on both Twitter and Facebook getting many RT's and shares from people in disbelief.

I literally laughed out loud as 80% of the comments were "I HATE YOU AARON!!!" in a friendly way of course and the group chat that I'm in was a continuous thread of HOW LUCK CAN SOMEONE GET I LOVE AND HATE YOU!!! I was also informed that until I captured this image there were only 6 known photos of these occurring and no video. So not only did I capture the 7th image ever, I also captured the very first video of one. Quickly making its rounds on National News headlines. I was on cloud 9 and honestly didn't even care about the snow at that point. 

My chase partners Alec and Stephen couldn't have been happier for us and Alec even made the joke about my luck this year stating that "Only Aaron can chase snow and see a freaking tornado, just like only Aaron can hike 1,000 miles, come back for two days, and see the best tornado of 2016". Not being able to stay in New York for the full duration of this event due to prior commitments at home made this even more satisfying. This just goes to show, once you think you've seen it all. Mother Nature throws something new that you've never seen before at you in the least likely of scenarios. Night fell and Reed, Thomas and myself celebrated with steak and beer and were joined with Mike Siedel and crew from The Weather Channel. Them too in disbelief at what we witnessed earlier as the footage ran on the TV's as we sat in the bar. We ended up with a foot of snow before the band let up just long enough for me to begin my trek home. Which ended up taking forever due to multiple massive pile ups near Erie and Cleveland. There was also a persistent LES band hammering Northeast Cleveland making the highways almost impassible as I slowly crawled my way home into the early morning hours. At one point cars were sliding back down the hill the highway went up due to lack of traction. I had my foot floored and was barely making it up, cruising at 10mph. 

Arriving home, I still tried to gather my thoughts as to what happened. Still didn't seem real. What a chase day! 


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