Meteorologists at Eureka's National Weather Service's office are hoping local boat owners can check their wind gauges to help pinpoint the strength of a waterspout that went through the marina late Thursday afternoon before moving onto Woodley Island.
Security footage captured an image of the 4:41 p.m. wind event, basically a tornado over water, which appears to have only caused minor damage, according to Ryan Aylward, Eureka’s warning coordinator meteorologist.
“At this point it looks like it dissipated ... right after making it to land,” he said.
The weather phenomenon more commonly hits off Cape Mendocino or other points where the coastline juts out and “causes the wind to spin a little better,” he said, adding that having one in Humboldt Bay is unusual but not unheard of.
“It was a little too close,” Aylward said.
Weather service instruments clocked wind gusts of about 40 miles per hour at the time of the waterspout but Aylward said meteorologists are hoping to get more accurate readings from boat anemometers that were in the center of the whirling column. He said a reading from the Coral Sea, which is docked at the marina, came in at 54 miles per hour but it looks like waterspout didn't quite hit the boat's gauge.
"So, the wind might have been even higher but we'll never known," he said.
It’s best to stay out of a waterspout’s way by moving to a 90-degree angle from its apparent course, with Aylward noting that some can produce strong winds, although most are far weaker than traditional tornadoes. This one was likely caused by a storm moving over a spot where the wind was shifting direction, creating the vortex.
“You don’t want to be in that” if you can avoid it, he said.
Aylward asks anyone with photos or video of the waterspout or whose boat’s instruments might have recorded the wind speed to contact the weather service’s Woodley Island office at 443-6484.