The frigid temperatures last weekend brought many strange phenomena to the North East, including one that many New Yorkers had never heard of before: steam devils.

There's all kinds of strange occurrences that happen then the temperatures drop sub-zero. Ice quakes, for example, which occur when water-logged ground freezes and expands are just one example of the enormous effects frigid weather can have on the environment. The same goes for steam devils.

Steam Devils in the North East

Photos and videos went viral last weekend of what looked like a tornado over Lake Champlain in Vermont. What onlookers were actually seeing was a phenomenon called a steam devil. You can see the massive weather event below.

US National Weather Service Burlington VT via Facebook
US National Weather Service Burlington VT via Facebook

What is a Steam Devil?

Steam devils occur when cold air interacts with warmer water below. When the weather gets as cold as it did this past weekend, the difference between air and water temperature is especially large. From the Lake Champlain Committee (LCC):

Throughout the winter arctic air masses move in over Lake Champlain. Frequently, a layer of fog develops at the interface between air and water... Occasionally, some of [the fog wisps] begin to spiral and become taller and tighter, stretching up above the fog layer. The tubes can reach up to a hundred feet into the air, like small tornados over the lake.

The LCC goes on to compare steam devils to the "dust devils" that are commonly observed on a much smaller scale in large open spaces such as parking lots. So are there steam devils in New York?

Steam Devils in New York

The quickest answer, since Lake Champlain is shared by both Vermont and New York, is yes. Additionally, as long as the temperature conditions are ideal, steam devils can form not only over lakes but over places like hot springs or even power plants.

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