Weather Blog: Steam devil spout develops over Beaver Lake

Weather Blog

How Did This Form in the Freezing Cold Weather?

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) – Check this out! In the bitter cold on January 6 during sub-freezing temperatures, a rare “waterspout” type funnel developed over Beaver Lake near Shaddox Hollow west of Coppermine Lodge. Doug Timmons, who sent us the video, said in his nearly 25 years of living on the lake, he’s never seen one this big before.

Shaddox Hollow on Beaver Lake (Approximate Location of the Large Steam Devil Spout)

So, what was it and how did it form? Technically it wasn’t a waterspout, since it wasn’t connected to a cumulus cloud base. It’s actually a very well-developed steam devil, similar to a dust devil, but instead over water.

Formation of a Dust Devil

Steam devils can be common in the frigid cold over bodies of water, especially when the water temperature is much warmer than the surface air temperature. Beaver Lake’s surface water temperature Thursday morning was 44°F and the air temperature was 19°F, a difference of 25°F. Combine that drastic temperature difference with some “swirling” gusty winds from a passing weather system overhead and you get a steam devil like this.

While steam devils aren’t all that rare in late fall and early winter, this one lasted for several minutes, traveled quite a ways from the main lake all the way to the hollow and was rather large extending nearly 300 feet into the air. It almost had the appearance of a smaller waterspout, so we’ll call it a “winter steam devil spout.” Pretty wild! Download our NWA Weather Authority app to send us more videos and pictures.

Enjoy these additional videos of steam devils from storm chaser and photojournalist Brian Emfinger.

Video of well defined steam devils along the Arkansas River at Ozark, Arkansas and includes a little drone aerial video showing with the steam devils look like from above and how they form and die.

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