Baby Hurricane Forms Over Lake Erie

The eye of the baby storm hovering over Lake Erie (Photo: NWS radar).

People usually think of hurricanes as tropical events, but they can form over cold bodies of water as well. Case in point: For nearly three hours on Jan. 6, 2015, a baby hurricane churned over Lake Erie, reports The Buffalo News.

Though rare, these mini-hurricanes are not unheard of in the Great Lakes due to the region's peculiar lake-effect weather. You'd be forgiven for missing this one; it only existed on a tiny scale, barely worthy of the hurricane label. But the weather event did nevertheless feature a telltale "storm eye" not unlike a full-scale hurricane.

"It's on a very, very, incredibly small scale," said Dan Kelly, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "It's almost like a weak low-pressure system. This just happened to have circulation."

The so-called "baby hurricane" formed in a way similar to tropical storms, when colder air circulates over a warmer body of water. Though Lake Erie is frigid in the winter, the water temperature can still be warmer than the surrounding air.

"It does happen from time to time," Kelly said, "when you have a band and when you have a small-scale circulation in it."

Also similar to full-scale hurricanes, winds around the eye of this baby hurricane were stronger. By contrast, if you were standing inside the eye, winds would be calmer. In fact, under the right conditions there may even be a clear view of the blue sky from inside the eye, with little to no snow, similar to the serene weather that occurs from the inside of a tropical hurricane's eye.

This weather system, first detected by National Weather Service radar at about 7 a.m. off the Lake Erie shoreline, was not strong enough to get a name like tropical storms do, but it did last a fairly long while before eventually petering out near Fort Erie, Ontario, at about 10 a.m.

Stronger hurricane-like storms have formed over the Great Lake region in the past. For instance, in 1996 a strong cyclonic storm system developed over Lake Huron with winds that exceeded 70 miles per hour.