3:25pm - I first saw one of the small funnel clouds when I opened
my front door to go get the mail. It was dripping down from a
long, flat-bottomed cloud that was drifting rapidly south in the
3:55pm - Jumping in the car, I drove south to catch it at Dana
Point (See panorama above). Although there were four small funnel
clouds showing, they were so small, they are nearly invisible
in the photograph. So I continued on South, stopping by the side
of the road to get this shot at Doheny Beach
4:15pm - A closer look from the roadside stop at Doheny Beach.
4:30pm - A bit further on, in south San Clemente, I stopped and
got this close-up of the critter.
5:00pm - Fighting the road construction and gawking traffic through
San Clemente, I could see that I would not be able to get underneath
the funnel as it passed over land, so in desperation, I pointed
the camera through the windshield while driving and took this
picture "in the blind". Not bad...
There were times when the funnel nearly touched the water, but
I was always driving at that moment. By the time I'd get stopped
in a place for a good photo, the funnel would be receding back
up into the cloud base. This is the longest shot of it I have,
5:15pm - A final shot taken nearly straight up at the funnel
from the far southern end of San Clemente as the weather system
moved over the land and passed into the Camp Pendleton Marine
More Waterspout Pictures:
For nearly 40 years, I have watched literally hundreds
of these magnificent waterspouts form off of Three Arch
Bay here in Southern California, and nearly every time
my camera is either somewhere else or out of film. One
time in the early 1970's I spotted a storm cloud that
had seven huge waterspouts snaking down
to the ocean all at once...but no camera with me!
But having learned to recognize the cloud and wind conditions
that spawn them, on this day I was ready. Sure enough,
soon a very large and well formed spout began to spiral
down out of the clouds (see above). Notice the large cargo
ship near the funnel. What a sight it must have been for
A month or so later, another storm system
rolled down the coast and again produced this distant
Catalina Island, 40 miles away is visible in the background
in this telephoto shot.
In 1986, another miracle of nature arrived.
I remember some of my surfer friends who
were in the water at the time, telling me that this 'spout
lasted a long time, maybe 15 minutes, and reached all
the way to the oceans surface, with a great deal of seawater
mist being churned up into the air.
By the time I spotted it and ran home for
the camera then ran back to the cliff edge, it had disappeared
back up into the clouds. I waited around hoping it would
return, and after 10 minutes this wondrous phenomena reappeared,
and lasted for another 10 minutes or so.
It never got much bigger then this while
the camera was in my hands. It always seems to work that
"Man, you should'a been here ten minutes
ago! It was AWESOME!"
This spectacular waterspout
from the 1981 weather system above eventually
came ashore right down Broadway Avenue in
Laguna Beach, but it's main power was rapidly
dissipating right at that moment. Just before
getting into position to take this picture,
the funnel cloud was touching the water, but
by the time I got the camera out of its case
and focused, it had begun to go back up into
the clouds. You can still see the seawater
mist (right below the bump of the hill at
El Morro) swirling from where it had been.
The distance from the camera
to the funnel is approximately 4 miles (6.5
kilometers), and the base of the clouds were
reported at 3,500 feet (1,066 meters). A little
calculation shows that the funnel was around
300 feet wide (91 meters) near the cloud base,
and around 160 feet wide (48 meters) at the
tip. When the weakened system hit Broadway
Av., it caused almost no damage except for
flinging a bus bench into the middle of the
street, then disappearing entirely.
Soon afterward, I called the
then famous TV weatherman of the time, Dr.
George Fischbeck, at the KABC studios in Hollywood
and told him what I had seen. The enthusiastic
Dr. Fischbeck started into a long discussion
of the phenomena, and we stayed on the phone
for nearly 45 minutes exchanging stories and
trivia of similar events. He related that
most of the reports of Waterspouts in Southern
California seem to come from between Dana
Point and Newport Beach, and he felt the unique
and steeply abrupt coastal mountains of Laguna,
combined with the wind shadowing effect of
Catalina Island were the primary cause of
their formation. That night on his TV broadcast,
he launched into a similar spiel for his Los
Angeles audience, and told the story of a
"huge Waterspout off of Three Arch Bay
reported by one of my close friends."
I really miss Dr. George Fischbeck..
...who loved to teach others about
our amazing world. His enthusiasm and encyclopedic
knowledge of meteorology and earth science was fascinating
and astounding. I can only sadly shake my head at
the hairstyled, tanning-boothed, know-nothing clones
who have replaced this wonderful soul. The world
is far less without Dr. George in it, and the younger
generation doesn't even know what they missed...but
I will never forget. Thanks Dr. George!
And so, in the spirit of Dr. George,
who always graced his audience with a corny quip
or silly bit of humor during his broadcasts, I include
these important safety tips (on the left) brought
to you by the Onion.