October's changeable weather on Lake Ontario


On October 2 a mild and sunny morning, we heard thunder rumbling out over the lake. We took a hike to the lakeshore to see what sort of weather event was underway. Standing in bright sunshine under a blue sky and surrounded by lush greenery we saw over the water a bank of lofty lake effect cumulous. A series of dark little rainsqualls marched along off shore under the cloud line and as we watched several lightning strikes flashed down from one particularly dark spot under the cloud line and more thunder boomed.  A brisk southwest wind had ruffled the lake and we could see the big rollers on the horizon flashing their whitecaps against the dark sky.



               a panoramic view of the early October lake squall


As we gazed upon all this, one  distant smudgy gray spot  of mist darkened and changed shape and intensified slightly. Waterspout. Above it a thin dark gray line angled down from the cloud bottom reaching about half way to the water and the dark smudge there. After a few seconds it shortened and disappeared.  A few hours later, the clouds moved inland and pelted us with frozen water that whitened the golf course greens a couple miles inland but that came down as rain on shore beside the still 54 degree lake waters.


On October 11, we took Titania out for a last lingering dawdle on the lake  under a warm sun and with gentle breezes. We sailed slowly over calm water and were able to clearly make out the bottom of the lake in 41 feet of water. Two days later the yacht was on the hard for the winter. And  a couple days after that a storm blew through.


Full fledged storms are rare this early in the fall on Lake Ontario. They usually wait until November to sweep across its waters bringing lake effect snow with them. But this one came in on the morning of Oct 15 and by mid morning winds were exceeding the official definition of storm ( 48 knots) as monitored via the internet on the buoys moored out in the lake. Later that morning the buoy indicator got stuck at 54 knots for three hours so it probably missed the peak winds. A professor at SUNY Oswego told me that the meteorology department wind instrument atop their classroom building registered a gust of 85 miles an hour.


The lake looked downright savage- there were fifteen-foot waves offshore and fifty mile an hour winds near shore. Spume and spindrift blew off the dirty brown waves even within protected bays and harbors. The east end of the lake's water level was predicted to rise two feet due to wind surge.


Boats broke off moorings and sank; furling jibs became unfurled and shredded in short order. And a man rowing a dinghy was reported blown across Sodus Bay and rescued from Eagle Island. Dozens of yachts waiting haul out at the dock suffered minor damage and the next day a sand drift over a foot high surrounded the hot dog stand at Sodus Point.  It was a wild day.

The lake is increasingly empty now of pleasure boat traffic. Once again it becomes the realm of bufflehead and merganser, gull and eagle.