**** Info via Environment Canada
Have you ever heard of steam devils? Known by meteorologists as “Arctic outbreak vortices”, steam devils are whirls of steam that form when very cold air moves over open water, usually during the winter.
Steam devils vary in size, appearing mostly thin and rope-like, but can occasionally look like large wide columns of steam extending upwards several hundred metres in height. They appear white when the sun is shining on them or dark grey when under cloud cover. Steam devils are usually associated with another marine phenomenon called Arctic sea smoke, which is essentially sea fog (or “smoke”) forming over open water. It literally looks like steam forming (as it does over a cup of hot liquid) and it occurs when frigid polar air hovers over the open water. Steam devils have been observed all over the world except in the tropics.
Steam devils are easily mistaken for waterspouts. The main difference between the two is that steam devils are much smaller, and weaker, and usually don’t extend up into a cloud. They also do not exhibit the characteristic “spray ring” near the surface of the water, which is associated with waterspouts. This spray ring is an indicator of the violently rotating air that is present in a waterspout. In addition, just like steam devils, waterspouts can occur during strong and sudden Arctic-air outbreaks, but are rarely seen because they are often obscured by snow showers.
The winter season of 1993-94 saw one of the largest steam devils outbreaks on record over the Great Lakes, where hundreds of steam devils were sighted along with the rare winter waterspout!