A Waterspout in Orange County California, which appeared off of Laguna Beach, Dana Point and San Clemente on April 17, 2004. It was a small waterspout, never actually reaching the water, but a lovely sight nonetheless.

A Waterspout off of Southern Orange County California
April 17, 2004

Dana Point Panorama - 2004
A 180° panorama from the top of Dana Point. The long cloud spawning the waterspouts is in center, over the ocean. - © 2004 Steve Turnbull

A brilliant day after a storm produced a group of small waterspouts that failed to reach the water,
but they still put on a graceful show as they drifted southward along the coast.



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 20kt. wind.


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 Base.

More Waterspout Pictures:

Waterspout off of Three Arch Bay - 1981

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 them!


waterspout - april 1981

A month or so later, another storm system rolled down the coast and again produced this distant wonder.
Catalina Island, 40 miles away is visible in the background in this telephoto shot.


March - 1986


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 way.

"Man, you should'a been here ten minutes ago! It was AWESOME!"

...uh, yeah...






Waterspout off of Laguna Beach - 1981

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."

safety tipsDr. George Fishbeck I really miss Dr. George Fischbeck..

a real,
true weatherman

...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.